In a controversial move, two congressmen have introduced bills which would prevent former members of Congress from receiving their federal pensions if they begin lobbying after their term in office, according to the Hill. Rep. Bill Posey (R-Fla.) has introduced legislation to ban members of Congress from lobbying for five years after leaving office (H. R. 318) and eliminate their federal benefits if they choose to lobby (H. R. 319). Similarly, Rep. Steve Israel introduced the “Revolving Door Pension Prevention Act” (H.R.567) which makes former members of Congress receiving compensation as a highly-paid lobbyist ($1,000,000 or more as a direct result of lobbying activities) ineligible to receive certain Federal retirement benefits.
The legislation has angered many former members of Congress such as former Rep. Jim Slattery (D-Kan.) who has said, “Current members think they’re going to satisfy the beast by throwing this kind of red meat, and it doesn’t work…Some ill-informed members of Congress believe they can blame lobbyists for their poor standing in the public. That’s a joke. The only way they’re going to improve their standing in the eyes of the public is to do a better job…Some members of Congress have tried to blame lobbyists for their decisions. Whenever I hear something like that I want to just vomit. What a cowardly answer.”
Moreover, James Hickey, President of the Association of Government Relations Professionals, has argued that such legislation is ripe for a Supreme Court challenge as the right to petition the government is protected by the First Amendment.
Other former lawmakers such as Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) have provided alternative ideas for reform like extending the “cooling off” period that members of Congress must adhere too. Currently, former members of the House of Representatives are required to wait one year before they are allowed to register to lobby while former Senators are required to undergo a two year waiting period.
Whatever the result, this issue is likely to remain at the forefront of lobbying reform as many still have fresh memories of lobbying scandals like that of Jack Abramoff. However, legislators must be careful when implementing reforms in an effort to avoid creating more “shadow lobbyists” who do not register as lobbyists despite engaging in advocacy which would just exacerbate the situation.