Jeffrey Birnbaum’s column in today’s Washington Post is a must-read for anyone who wants to see the level to which serious money has invaded the world of Washington lobbying. It’s also a reminder of the enduring importance of the revolving door that shuttles people back and forth between Capitol Hill and K Street, ground zero for Washington’s lobbyist community.
Normally the windfall for Hill staffers comes when they move from the Capitol to K Street. In this case, the windfall – amounting to nearly $2 million – was a severance package given to an ex-lobbyist moving in the opposite direction.
Jeffrey S. Shockey is the man in question and he’s now serving as the deputy staff director of the House Appropriations Committee. (That’s ground zero not only for spending bills, but for the insertion of members’ private earmarks into those bills.)
The size of Shockey’s goodbye bonus after five years as a partner at Lewis & Lowery has raised eyebrows even among the city’s top lobbyists, Birnbaum reports.
Lobby shops often give parting gifts to colleagues who go into public service as a way to maintain strong relations. But the amount tends to be nominal and strictly tied to past performance to avoid even the appearance of paying a federal official in exchange for favorable treatment – an exchange that would be illegal.
Why, then, would Shockey’s former firm pay him so much? The reason, several seasoned lobbyists speculated, must have been the firm’s desire to keep its communications with Shockey and the appropriations panel absolutely seamless.
Birnbaum points out that Shockey’s ties are particularly close to Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis. He was a staffer for Lewis before he left for K Street. He specialized in appropriations issues for his lobbying clients. Now he’s the number two staffer for the committee itself.
The connection between Lewis and the lobbying firm – whose partners also include former California Republican Congressman Bill Lowery – has drawn the attention of federal investigators who have subpoenaed the firm’s clients to learn more.
Whatever the outcome of that inquiry, this instance of a backwards-spinning revolving door, a $2 million golden parachute, and a wealthy ex-lobbyist on the staff of a powerful House committee, is enough to give pause to anyone who thinks the line is too close between lobbying and lawmaking in the nation’s capital. Kudos to Jeff Birnbaum for bringing this illustrative case to light.