Countering the Reward Method of Corruption


David Sirota posted on OpenLeft yesterday on what he called “the reward method of corruption.” Sirota writes, “As opposed to the Payoff Method whereby a campaign contribution is made and then a favor is legislated, the Reward Method gives a politician a goodie after a favor is done, sorta like a dog being given a treat for rolling over.” This is one of two major issues raised by the revolving door between government and lobbying. (The other issue being the use of access built up over the years.)

While I don’t think there is a direct answer, which Sirota was seeking, to how to stop the flow of lawmakers and staffers from government to the lobbying profession–short of greatly increasing their pay–there are some things to mitigate the effects.

First, let’s look at the problem. This goes from the somewhat benign, lawmaker goes to work for a nonprofit cause not connected to private enterprise, to the wholly corrupt, the various staffers who did deals for Jack Abramoff and then were hired by his lobbying firm. But for the most part, these things fall in between, a staffer or lawmaker has a particular expertise and flips to make more money doing, essentially, the same thing they were doing in Congress.

Now perhaps the biggest fear is that, in preparation for a future career on K Street, a staffer or lawmaker will do favors, directly or indirectly, having been asked or on their own volition, to protect future hiring opportunities. The biggest example of this is Billy Tauzin, who was in talks to head the pharmaceutical industry’s top lobbying shop, PhRMA, while he was writing the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act, the largest health care overhaul since the 1960s. Tauzin’s tale included many instances of opaque situations: closed conference committees with lobbyists at the table, secret discussions for future employment, unreported meetings with lobbyists. The revelation of all of these things would have aided in providing the public with a view into Tauzin’s world preemptively.

What I’m saying is that the preemptive, or real time, disclosure of a variety of items would allow the public to prevent a lawmaker from doing favors for a potential future employer. The following would be most useful:

  • Real time lobbying disclosure with increased reporting requirements — We’ve covered this here, here and here recently. Require lobbyists to disclosure all meetings with covered officials within 24 hours. Require lobbyists to report with whom they meet and the office of the lawmaker when they are meeting with staffers. Also require specific information on positions taken on bills, appropriations, or other topics of discussion.
  • Open all conference committees and require time to read conference reports — Require all conference committees to be open to the public (didn’t the Democrats promise this back in 2006?) and require all conference reports to be available for 72 hours prior to consideration. (Of course, beyond this, all committees should be open and all bills should be available for 72 hours prior to consideration.)
  • Increase reporting requirement for job negotiations — Currently, members of the House and some staffers must report job negotiations to the Clerk of the House, but the information is not publicly available.

As I said earlier, I don’t think there is a direct way to limit government officials from leaving for a more lucrative profession outside of increasing their pay. There could be a longer “cooling off” period in the House, where it is only one year, and perhaps an extension to staff making less money than currently meets the threshold for the post-employment lobbying restriction. But that hasn’t stopped lawmakers from taking positions as “consultants” and later becoming lobbyists (see: Hastert, Dennis or Daschle, Tom).

Greater transparency and disclosure would, however, be the best solution at present to provide less incentive for lawmakers and staff to act favorably for future employment. With more eyes on their actions there will be fewer Billy Tauzin’s, Kevin Ring’s, Michael Scanlon’s, and Tony Rudy’s.