Why super PACs should have ‘cooling off’ periods, too

Screen shot "final countdown to Nov. 4" from SOFA PAC website with solicitation to "sign up for the battlefront"
Screen shot from SOFA PAC’s website.

Freshman Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Mont., has chosen for his chief of staff the man who ran the super PAC that spent $175,000 backing his run for Congress, raising a question: Do we need a cooling off period to slow the revolving door between big money campaigns and government service?

As the Associated Press reported, Scott Hommel took over a super PAC, Special Forces for America, or SOFA, that Zinke founded and ran until he decided to run for Congress. Under campaign finance laws, candidates for Congress can’t run, or even coordinate with, a super PAC, which can accept contributions in unlimited amounts from almost any source, including corporations and labor unions.

But while a candidate can’t work with a super PAC because of the big money they raise, once elected he can hire the person who persuaded all those donors to write big checks. (The biggest check that SOFA got was $120,000 from Robert Mercer, the CEO of hedge fund Renaissance Technologies.)

It happens on both sides of the aisle, and it’s been happening for a long time. Harold Ickes, whom Bill Clinton had to fire from his White House job after the campaign finance scandals of the mid-1990s, reportedly ran the Democratic National Committee — and its prolific soft money operation — from the West Wing of the White House. That’s one reason that the Clintons, both Bill and Hillary, hosted coffees in the White House map room for big donors and why the Lincoln Bedroom became a “Fat Cat Hotel.”

Just like we bar former government officials from lobbying their old colleagues for a year or more after they leave office, barring individuals who just got done soliciting six- and seven-figure checks from working in Congress and the executive branch for a couple of years would certainly be within Congress’ power. And it would keep people with lots of favors to repay out of the corridors of power.