Why Look At Former Staffers Turned Lobbyists?

by

Throughout this year I’ve spent quite a bit of time looking at the connections between powerful players in the health care debate and their former staffers turned health care lobbyists. The reason to highlight these connections is simple: it shows how outside organizations get the ear of key lawmakers.

You and I can’t hire a the former chief of staff to Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus, but America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) can. Nor can we hire Sen. Blanche Lincoln’s former chief of staff, but a dozen health care companies can. These people have connections that worth more than gold in Washington. They have the ears of the players in Washington.

Roll Call did some more reporting on this and brought us some crucial information on these lobbyists. In particular, I’d like to point to one relationship that I’ve written about more than once. That’s Sen. Blanche Lincoln’s former chief of staff Kelly Bingel. Here’s a visualization that we created showing Lincoln’s connection to Bingel. And here’s what Roll Call has to say:

In the case of key fence-sitter Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti lobbyist Kelly Bingel is said to have the ear of her former boss. Bingel declined to be interviewed for this article, but a former colleague called her “first on the list” of the Senator’s callbacks.

“She’s Sen. Lincoln’s alter ego,” a former colleague said.

Organizations with a stake in legislation know that the best way to get the attention of lawmakers is to poach their most connected, most knowledgable staffers and hire them as lobbyists. The ordinary constituent can’t call up a senator and lobby them on a policy issue, but their close buddy and former employee can. Just look at this quote from the Roll Call article:

“It is helpful. We have lines of communication open,” a lobbyist and former Senate Democratic staffer said. “We have access to lay out our argument.”

Without that access you can’t get anything done.

(Most of our coverage of health care lobbyists and the revolving door can be found here.)

Categorized in:
Share This:
  • The “revolving door” is pretty obvious, and for that reason a lot of effort has been, and continues to be, spent (quite understandably) on the influence of lobbyists. It is, IMHO, disgraceful that a lobbyist should command such access that’s not available to citizens.

    But, disgust aside, the lobbyist is merely the facilitator – the real power is the special interest that hires or pays the lobbyist. The lobbyist gets his/her marching orders from the special interest (usually some kind of industry association). The political contributions may flow through the lobbyist, but they come from the special interest.

    If we’re going to have real reform, I think we’re going to have to make sure we aim our investigations at the powers behind the lobbyists. If we can do that, lobbying per se will tend to shrink on its own.