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David Sirota
David Sirota
25 Sep 2015
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The Post-Election Politics of the Revolving Door


There are two types of money that corrupt our politics. After a national election that cost more than $2 billion, most of us know about the blatant kind that floods into politicians' campaigns, typically with quid pro quo strings attached. This is the most obvious form of legalized bribery — cash goes in, policy positions and legislative favors eventually come out.

As powerful as that money is, though, there's also a second, equally corrosive form of payoff — the kind that awaits campaign staff and outgoing government officials if and when they enter the world of influence peddling. This more secret form of corruption tends to generate far less outrage than ho-hum rationalizations. For this reason, you almost never hear about it — that is, until the last few weeks, when a series of coincidental revelations provided a rare look at how this dark money really works.

It started with a Government Accountability Office report on how regulatory agencies are facing "challenges" enforcing oil and gas drilling rules. Part of the problem, the GAO noted, is the fact that retaining regulators "is difficult because qualified staff are frequently offered more money for private sector positions within the oil and gas industry." Translation: regulators are flying through the revolving door, meaning it's difficult to retain good ones and even harder to convince the ones who do stay to vigorously do their jobs.

Then came an Ad Age magazine report on how "public relations agencies are licking their chops in anticipation of Election Day, when big-name presidential campaigners and ... political operatives decide they're ready to move" into the corporate world. The magazine pointed out that many end up like Republican strategist Steve Schmidt - dividing time between advising campaigns, appearing as independent voices on cable TV and advocating for corporate clients.

Underscoring the bipartisan nature of this graft, the New York Times followed up with a look at Democrat Anita Dunn — a top Obama aide who "straddle(s) the line between campaign adviser and corporate strategist." According to the Times, many "clients and lobbyists who have teamed up with (Dunn) say they benefit from (her) firm's ability to provide information about the Obama administration's views."

The implications of all this should be self-evident.

If, as a regulator, you know you can be paid better by working for companies you are regulating, you are more likely to go easier on those companies in hopes of landing that more lucrative job. Likewise, if you see managing campaigns as a gateway to a higher-paid post-election job in corporate PR, you are more likely to urge your political clients to pursue strategies that go easy on businesses you hope will soon be paying you a retainer. And if you are splitting time between advising candidates and shilling for special interests, your counsel will inevitably tilt towards those interests.

This dynamic is often a force even among politicians themselves. Case in point is Bill Clinton, who as president was an architect of financial deregulation and as an ex-president has been paid millions by the financial services industry. Noting this not-so-coincidental chronology, the Roosevelt Institute's Matt Stoller points out that, "The dirty secret of American politics is that, for most politicians, getting elected is just not that important — what matters is post-election employment."

How can this be rectified? Amid the euphoria that comes with the conclusion of another election, there's no easy answer - but getting a glimpse of the situation, labeling it outright corruption and admitting it is a huge problem certainly is a decent start.

David Sirota is a best-selling author of the book "Back to Our Future: How the 1980s Explain the World We Live In Now." He co-hosts "The Rundown" on AM630 KHOW in Colorado. Email him at, follow him on Twitter @davidsirota or visit his website at



4 Comments | Post Comment
I think David really understand that nothing in Washington is going to get done unless we deal with the corruption problem first. It dosen't matter which talking suit we have as presidet when everyone on capitol hill can get away with murder. And for the presdient, he literally gets away with murder.
Comment: #1
Posted by: Chris McCoy
Fri Nov 9, 2012 11:40 AM
I thought this was something that Pelosi worked on before the Republicans took over the House. I remember hearing something about putting a limit on how many years a government employee has to wait until they can take a private industry job. Not the perfect solution, but better than it is now. Maybe it was just one of the many things that ended up being blocked by the obstructionist and corrupt Republicans, or maybe it was toothless or something else altogether.

Anyway, I agree that the corruption in our government is out of control and a first start has got to be a constitutional amendment to put an end to so-called corporate person hood. We have to stop letting corporations buy off our leaders.
Comment: #2
Posted by: A Smith
Fri Nov 9, 2012 12:06 PM
That idea is not just an imperfect solution, it woulden't work at all. Stuff like that sounds good, but its designed to let people think it solves the problem when it does nothing. And private employees becoming government ones can be just as dangerous. Ever heard of turbo tax timmy geigner or lawrance summers. Obama putting those two in his cabinet told the banks "bussiness as usual boys"
Comment: #3
Posted by: Chris McCoy
Sat Nov 10, 2012 9:08 AM
Chris - I generally agree. But what is your solution? You can't put a total ban on someone who was appointed to a government position from ever being employed in the industry where they have the most experience, or no one would ever take the job. And I do think there is some merit to trying to find people who do have industry experience to fill these positions (just not back-scratching relationships). Do you restrict appointments only to academics? Do you have the government create a pool of in-house, government trained bureaucrats that can be drawn from to fill appointments and then they return back to the pool when a new administration comes along, so they are ensured a life-long job outside of the private sector?

It's easy to say "just stop the corruption", but then when you start to think about practical solutions the answer isn't so apparent.
Comment: #4
Posted by: A Smith
Fri Nov 16, 2012 10:24 AM
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