Michael Paese used to be the chief of staff to Finance Committee Chair Barney Frank until he took a job as a chief lobbyist for Goldman Sachs last September. Congressional ethics laws forbid former staffers from contacting the office or committee of their previous employment for one year. Paese’s year was about to be up, just in time for him to lobby his former employer and coworkers as they took up work on an extensive financial regulation package. Frank, however, took the rare step of prohibiting Paese from communicating with any staff of the committee for an undetermined amount of time to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest.
This continues a trend in Washington where decision makers understand where the the lines of a conflict of interest could be crossed. The White House has instituted new lobbying policies for both the TARP and stimulus funding (with many loopholes, as Daniel Schuman has pointed out). A former lobbyist turned chief of staff to Rep. Jim Matheson turned down an invitation to a lobbyist thrown party. And now, Frank has refused to allow his staff to talk to one of Goldman Sachs’ prime hires.
This could point towards a moment where Congress could enact further lobbying reforms to strengthen those passed in the 2007 ethics bill. More transparency should be shed on the meetings between lawmakers, staff and lobbyists. Simple disclosure of names and clients simply serves to provide a listing for lawmakers to know who they are talking to and does little to provide real information to the public.