It’s Not What’s Illegal That’s the Problem


Now this is sweet. Trent Lott, former U.S. senator and Senate Majority Leader and now lobbyist, is using his $1.3 million campaign war chest left over from when he retired from the Senate to make political donations to Members of Congress that vote and take other actions that directly impact the interests of his clients. As the report says, the practice is legal (amazingly so), and he’s not the first retiring member to give former colleagues left over campaign funds. It all fits my view of the mix of money and politics: it’s not what’s illegal that’s the real problem.

Lott retired from the Senate in December and then joined former Sen. John Breaux (D -La.) to launch The Breaux-Lott Leadership Group, a Washington lobbying operation. The Associated Press quotes Craig Holman at Public Citizen and a spokesperson from the Center for Responsive Politics as saying Lott’s stockpile, $1.1 million at the end of March, is the largest they can remember, and is drawing scrutiny of the Mississippi Republican. The clients he has signed on to promote, the proposed Delta-Northwest airline merger and Northrop Grumman’s $35 billion contract to build tanker jets for the Air Force, are drawing attention too.

Congress passed the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007 which extends the time a senator has to "cool off period" where they can’t lobby their former colleagues from one to two years. But Lott retired days before the law took effect, so he is only held to the one year standard. But in the meantime, he gets the attention of members by making $5,000 checks. And the AP reports that he is in the process of turning the left over campaign cash into a political action committee, freeing him to make even larger contributions.