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Revolving Door Makes Lobbying Cheaper and More Effective

June 14, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

The conclusions will probably come as a surprise exactly none of you, but a new study from the International Monetary Fund on the influence of campaign donations and lobbying politics is worth a mention because of the completeness of the research and the authority of its source. Two IMF economists, Deniz Igan and Prachi Mishra, have been examining how the targeted political activities of financial corporations between 1999 and 2006 affected how Congress voted on bills that strengthened or loosened regulation of Wall Street leading up to the 2008 crisis. They found — surprise! — that the more the corporations spent on campaign donations and lobbying, the more likely Congress was to vote in favor of deregulation. Furthermore, they found that the money Wall Street spent on lobbying members of Congress who were connected to Wall Street, either from having worked there in the past or through a former staff member who had gone through the revolving door to K Street, had a much stronger effect on their voting than on those who had no Wall Street connections.

A preliminary version of the economists’ research paper, replete with detailed methodology information, can be found here (happy to see OpenCongress mentioned as a data source). Some of their key findings were summed up recently in an article for the June edition of the IMF’s Finance & Development magazine, here. And Dan Froomkin written it up at HuffPost, here.

The most significant finding is the extent to which the revolving door influences Congress’ voting patterns. According to the study, Wall Street companies that used lobbyists who had worked for the member of Congress they were lobbying made the targeted lawmaker 20% more likely to vote how the firm wanted than the average lawmaker, and about 9% more likely than lawmakers who were lobbied by unconnected lobbyists (column 1 at right). Furthermore, when companies used lobbyists who were connected to the member of Congress they were targeting, they were able to spend less to have the same impact. The amount of money spent by companies with connected lobbyists did not affect voting (column 3). Apparently it’s just the connection that matters, not the number of trips to the Hill.

Coincidentally, Talking Points Memo has just updated their “Shadow Congress” database, tracking former members of Congress who now work for lobbying shops, and the revolving door is definitely trending up. By TPM’s count 195 former lawmakers now work on K Street — up from 172 one year ago — including several very powerful Democrats who were defeated in the 2010 midterms.

Given the influence of the revolving door, there has been very little discussion in Congress on reforming the system. In 2007, as part of a larger ethics overhaul bill, Democrats passed a loophole-laden two-year “cooling off” period before ex-lawmakers and staff members could become registered lobbyists. In the past 6 years, only one bill has been introduced to expand those restrictions. Sen. Michael Bennet’s [D, CO] “Close the Revolving Door Act of 2010” proposed, among other things, to permanently ban members of Congress from ever joining lobbying firms. It attracted one co-sponsor before dying in committee.

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