"The revolving door is not so much Congress as the executive branch."
That statement comes from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., during her Thursday night appearance on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. The declaration may seem counterintuitive, given that Pelosi's office is one of the largest incubators of revolving door talent on Capitol Hill. According to data from Open Secrets at least 28 current and former Pelosi staffers have represented (or currently represent) special interests.
During her appearance, Stewart pressed the congresswoman on the obstacles facing small IT contractors who wanted to compete for bids working on the Affordable Care Act's website. Stewart questioned whether an overly burdensome procurement process was allowed to continue because it favored big government contractors with the resources to successfully navigate the regulations.
When Stewart broached the issue that corporations may have too much influence on members of Congress, Pelosi was apparently unaware that one of her former staffers now works for Boeing. "I don't know that, well... who?"
"Is it possible that the people within the system don't have enough distance from it to see that people in congressional offices end up going and becoming lobbyists in corporations, these corporations lobby to get all kinds of arcane things put in to the regulation… can our Congress, maybe, not see the corruption inherent in that?"
While Pelosi attributed the success of legacy contractors to government reticence to venture out of its comfort zone, the links between Congress and special interests are undeniable. And a high ranking member such as Pelosi makes a particularly appealing target. In June 2013, the American Health Care Association PAC threw a Washington fundraiser for her. Health professionals have contributed nearly $1 million to her campaign committees during her time in Congress, while big-time government contractors Boeing ($10,000) and Bechtel ($3,000) have both chipped in to Pelosi's re-election efforts in this cycle.
The K Street rosters of special interests fielding former Pelosi staffers includes a who's who of the biggest corporations in the United States. Arshi Siddiqui, who served as a policy advisor for Pelosi from 2003 to 2010, now works for Pelosi's top donor, law and lobbying behemoth Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, where she lobbies for, among others, mega donor and defense contractors Honeywell International and United Technologies, global oil giant Royal Dutch Shell and the Private Equity Growth Capital Council, a trade association for hedge funds that lobbies to protect the tax break that allows Warren Buffet to pay taxes at a lower rate than his secretary. Michael Sheehy was Pelosi's national security advisor from 2003 to 2009; at McBee Strategic Consulting, he continues to keep America sage by advocating for the interests of Boeing, General Dynamics and Honeywell. And Cindy Jimenez, who worked as an adviser for the California Democrat from 2002 to 2007, is now the director of government relations for United Technologies.
Of course, Pelosi can't control her staffers do when they leave her employ. But she's not shy about hiring the best K Street has to offer for her own staff. Her policy director, Richard Meltzer, was a lobbyist for Ernst & Young, where he represented the likes of Citigroup, Ford, General Electric, Microsoft and Verizon Communications.
The revolving door is a Washington-wide phenomenon, one that spins particularly close to Pelosi's office.