Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump on Monday called for tighter restrictions on Washington’s revolving door, proposing a five-year ban on members of Congress and executive branch officials who want to become lobbyists after leaving government.
The move appears to be in response to revelations from hacked internal Clinton campaign emails, released from the group WikiLeaks, showing that senior Clinton campaign officials last year debated whether the campaign should accept money raised by lobbyists working on behalf of foreign governments. The internal discussions appeared to result in accepting the money.
Trump also took aim at a loophole in federal lobbying law that allows people who spend less than 20 percent of their time lobbying to call themselves something other than a lobbyist, such as a consultant or adviser.
“I am going to expand the definition of lobbyist so we close all the loopholes that former government officials use by labeling themselves consultants, advisers, all these different things,” Trump said in a speech in Green Bay, Wis., that focused on government ethics.
Changing the definition of a lobbyist would require congressional action.
Trump’s proposals go well beyond ethics rules governing former lawmakers and administration officials who become lobbyists, known as the “cooling-off period.” Under current law, former House members must wait one year before they can lobby Congress, and former senators must wait two years. Executive branch officials must wait either two years or one year before lobbying their former agency, depending on how senior they were.
Notably, Trump’s proposals focus on government officials and lawmakers joining the lobbying industry but do not address rules that would apply to lobbyists joining the administration — a question on many lobbyists’ minds.
President Obama largely barred lobbyists from working in the administration, although the White House ended up issuing several waivers to allow lobbyists to serve. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has not indicated whether her administration would continue the lobbyist ban, but some signs indicate she may be more open to allowing lobbyists to participate. Lobbyists have raised millions of dollars for her campaign, and the Democratic National Committee this year lifted its ban on lobbyist donations.
The Clinton campaign would not comment on what her administration’s policy on lobbyists would be. Clinton’s transition team has not hired any lobbyists, and the campaign has not appointed lobbyists for policy roles.
Several leaders on Trump’s transition team and campaign, however, are lobbyists.
Clinton has expressed her support for a bill, outlined in a 2015 op-ed, that would clamp down on loopholes in lobbying law that allow former government officials to call themselves “outside advisers” and “strategic counselors” when in practice they are lobbying — strikingly similar to the proposal Trump floated Monday to close the same loopholes.
Trump’s proposals did not elicit much reaction on K Street. Many lobbyists noted that the changes would require congressional action, which is unlikely, and said that imposing a much longer “cooling off” period for government officials and congressional staffers would deter people from taking government positions in the first place, knowing that their post-government employment options would be limited.
“What you’ll end up with is people serving in government who are wealthy or super ideological to advance a partisan cause because it’ll make it very hard for someone to cycle in and out to do public service for the good of the people,” said GOP lobbyist Stewart Verdery. “People are less likely to work on Capitol Hill or in an administration knowing their options on the back end are going to be significantly curtailed.”