The enduring power of the ex-senator

three-quarters portrait of John Breaux, wearing a dark suit in his former Senate office with an American flag to his right.
John Breaux, a Louisiana Democrat who served 32 years in Congress before opening a lobbying firm, will be back in his old committee room today. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To see the power of Washington’s revolving door — and the weakness of congressional lobbying regulations — check out two events today involving well-heeled corporate interests, health care policy and powerful former members of Congress.

This afternoon at the offices of the influential Bipartisan Policy Center, one of the cofounders of the organization, former Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle, will be emceeing a program presenting “innovative strategies” on improving the nation’s health from CEOs of major corporations and leaders of several health associations. Daschle is not registered as a lobbyist, even though he serves as a senior adviser to DLA Piper, a law firm that has spent nearly $137 million since 1989 lobbying on behalf of a wide range of blue-chip corporate clients.

Those clients include two major health insurers, Aetna and Blue Cross/Blue Shield, both companies that are represented on the panel Daschle is moderating. The event is just an hour long, which is potentially noteworthy: Congressional regulations say an individual does not have to register as a lobbyist with Congress unless he or she spends more than 20 percent of his or her time working for an individual client in a given period.

Thirty minutes after Daschle’s panel gets underway, his former Democratic Senate colleague, John Breaux, will be leading a discussion about the role of digital technology in health care in an even more impressive venue — in a Senate hearing room, sponsored by the Senate Select Committee on Aging, which the Louisianan used to chair. Breaux is a registered lobbyist with the Breaux Lott Leadership group, named after him and his partner, former Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi. The notice for the event gives a nod to Breaux’s role as one of the three leaders of the Alliance for Connected Health Care, an organization so new it does not yet appear to have filed the 990 form that would provide details on officers and expenses with the Internal Revenue Service. The other leaders: Lott and Daschle.

While the Breaux Lott firm does not list Alliance for Connected Health Care as a client, Daschle’s employer, DLA Piper, does. DLA Piper registered as a lobbyist for the alliance in February and was paid $170,000 through the first half of this year.