Daily Montanan: Tester pushes for lifetime ban of former members of Congress from becoming lobbyists

by Darrell Ehrlick

A swamp. A revolving door. A lifetime appointment.

The lawmaker-lobbyist relationship in Congress has drawn plenty of criticism for decades, but not much has been done to curb the practices that politicians in both political parties decry.

Much of the concern focuses on members of Congress who leave public office and trade it nearly immediately for a lobbying position, parlaying their knowledge and personal relationships into lucrative and effective lobbying careers.

Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat from Montana who is also running for re-election in 2024, will introduce legislation that would stop former members of Congress from ever becoming lobbyists. The bill, the Close the Revolving Door Act, would place a lifetime ban on current members of Congress becoming lobbyists, increase rules for lobbyists and provide more transparency to the public about lobbying activities.

A similar measure was proposed in the U.S. House in 2021, but was not able to gain enough traction to become law.

Former members of Congress can begin lobbying efforts one to two years after leaving office, and so, too, can Congressional staff members. The Center for Responsive Politics notes that 460 former members of Congress are lobbyists or work for lobbying firms.

For example, after resigning as the Secretary of the Interior during the Donald Trump administration, Ryan Zinke became a lobbyist at a D.C. firm before running successfully to become the Congressional representative for western Montana.

Among other things the act would do:

  • Place a lifetime ban on current Members of Congress from becoming lobbyists;
  • Increase the staff restrictions on lobbying to six years;
  • Ban lobbyists from joining congressional or committee staffs that they lobbied for six years;
  • Create a more accessible website for public reporting of lobbying activities;
  • Require lobbying firms to report on consulting services provided by former members of Congress or former senior congressional staff; and
  • Increase the maximum penalties for violating the Lobbying Disclosure Act.

“I don’t think any member of Congress should cash out on the privilege of public service,” Tester said. “It’s past time that we slam shut the revolving door that has allowed too many folks in Washington to use their elected office as a stepping stone toward high-paying lobbying jobs for special interests, instead of advocating for the people they represent. I’m calling on my colleagues to join me in supporting this commonsense legislation to bring the level of transparency and accountability to Congress that Montanans and Americans deserve.”

In addition to this latest effort to curb lobbying efforts, Tester also reintroduced legislation to require members of Congress to post their daily schedules online, including all events and meetings attended in their official capacity. Tester has posted his schedule daily since 2007.

“Too many members of Congress and their staff have abused public office by treating it as a launching pad for their next high-paying job. This culture is deeply embedded and normalized in Washington–and it is ripe for corruption,” said Tiffany Muller, President of End Citizens United and the Let America Vote Action Fund. “The Close the Revolving Door Act is commonsense legislation aimed at ending this practice so that members of Congress and their staff stay focused on doing the people’s work. We applaud Senator Tester for his continued leadership on making government work for regular people.”