Congressmen, senators, and their senior staffers have all sorts of incentives when making policy. There are the noble incentives of seeking the common good, helping the vulnerable, and protecting liberty and human dignity. There are the standard incentives of getting reelected, and then there are the base incentives, such as raising money from donors, or even worse, lining up a high-paying private-sector job to enter upon exiting public service.
This is one reason people serve as politicians and top staffers: to line up the big cash-out. Lawmakers and staff thus have significant interest in arranging things in Washington so that they are in high demand.
The most corrupt part of this is when they craft public policy in such a way as to maximize their value as lobbyists and consultants. That requires increasing regulation, subsidies, tax rates, tax loopholes, complexities, mandates, and exemptions. More government, but never displacing private industry.
Had insiders crafted a healthcare law or a banking law solely looking to maximize their own market value after passage, those laws would have looked like Obamacare and Dodd-Frank. It’s totally unsurprising that the architects of those bills all became lobbyists and consultants for the affected industries.
We know about the revolving door, but still, we too often miss the true dynamic of Washington when we imagine K Street as the lever corporations use to influence government. K Street is also the proboscis the political class uses to extract wealth and power from the business class.
Politicians influence K Street as much as K Street influences politicians. Politico this week has a telling story.
“Members of the Congressional Black Caucus have a warning for Washington, D.C., lobbyists: Diversify your firms or you won’t have an audience with us.”
It’s kind of funny seeing Democrats, who always pretend to hate the influence of lobbyists, telling lobbyists exactly what they should do to have influence. "What you're doing is corrupt, but here's how to do it more effectively!" But also, the diversity, equity, and inclusion talk is very obviously cover for “hire us if you want your goodies from Congress.”
Politico cites Monica Almond, a lobbyist-turned-consultant who founded a firm last year that coaches lobbying firms on diversity.
Congressman Bennie Thompson has for years sent out the message to K Street. “We have to use the bully pulpit of opposition in Congress to say to those companies, 'If you want to continue to enjoy the support of people like me, you have to make sure that your workforce looks like America.'”
Notably, you’ll find Thompson’s former staffers across K Street. Former Thompson chief of staff Bonnie Walker-Armstrong is a lobbyist, former deputy chief of staff Cory Horton is a VP at a lobbying firm, former Homeland Security aide Allen Thompson is the VP of lobbying for Intel, former legislative director Richard Mattox launched his own lobbying firm and represented the likes of Goldman Sachs and gambling interests, and former communications director Dena Graziano is a lobbyist for all sorts of cyber or telecommunications clients. The list goes on and on.
All powerful members do this. Tom DeLay famously ran the K Street Project, pressuring firms and companies to hire Republican lobbyists, who would, in turn, raise money for Republicans.
Thompson and the Congressional Black Caucus have the leverage to do that today more than ever. They also have the cover of saying it’s all in the name of diversity, equity, and inclusion.