Capitol Hill’s Oddest Couple Unites to Ban Lobbying by Former Members

June 2, 2019 Updated: June 2, 2019

WASHINGTON—Sen. Ted Cruz, the very conservative Texas Republican, and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the Democratic socialist from New York, have found a legendary political needle in a haystack—their shared antipathy to lobbying by former congressmen.

Their surprise alliance came May 30 via a Twitter exchange, sparked by a Public Citizen report that found 26 of 44 former members (or 59 percent) who left Congress after 2018 are now working in the nation’s capital for lobbying firms, lobbying consultancies, trade groups, or business associations.

Things started when Ocasio-Cortez posted a link to the Public Citizen report and opined that, “If you are a member of Congress + leave, you shouldn’t be allowed to turn right around & leverage your service for a lobbyist check.

“I don’t think it should be legal at ALL to become a corporate lobbyist if you’ve served in Congress. At minimum there should be a long wait period.”

That prompted Cruz to respond, writing: “Here’s something I don’t say often: on this point, I AGREE with @AOC Indeed, I have long called for a LIFETIME BAN on former Members of Congress becoming lobbyists. The Swamp would hate it, but perhaps a chance for some bipartisan cooperation?”

To which Ocasio-Cortez tweeted back to Cruz: “If you’re serious about a clean bill, then I’m down. Let’s make a deal. If we can agree on a bill with no partisan snuck-in clauses, no poison pills, etc – just a straight, clean ban on members of Congress becoming paid lobbyists – then I’ll co-lead the bill with you.”

In short order, Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), a former senior aide to Cruz, stepped forward, as did Rep. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii). Aides to members of the unlikely new alliance will meet this week to begin sketching out a legislative proposal and a plan of attack to get it through a Congress that is certain to be highly resistant.

Efforts to ban lobbying by former senators and representatives aren’t new, but a coalition featuring two such polar opposites is a rare phenomenon in the bitterly partisan environment that is the nation’s capitol these days.

Timing is everything in politics, and the report apparently came at just the right time, with stark details on the revolving door between former members of Congress and the most influential K Street lobbying and law firms.

Prominent among the “stars” of the report is former Rep. Joe Crowley, the 10-term Democrat whom Ocasio-Cortez defeated in the 2018 primaries. He’s now with lobbying giant Squire Patton Boggs.

Public Citizen President Robert Weissman expressed a cautious optimism in an interview with The Epoch Times on May 31, saying: “There is massive public support for broad ethics and money-in-politics reform. Where Republicans are open to such measures—and the congressional revolving door is one such space—there is definitely an opportunity to get things done.”

But, Weissman said, “this is one of the hardest areas to win reform, precisely because it limits the future income of current lawmakers. The trick is to pounce when opportunities present to drive forward what Americans overwhelmingly favor.”

Even so, he said, the report “garnered huge attention because of the [Ocasio-Cortez]–Cruz connection,” and he pointed to Public Citizen’s long campaign to limit congressional insider trading.

“We’ve had a similar experience in the past with congressional insider trading—we plugged away at the issue. Eventually, ‘60 Minutes’ did a piece and then, not only did we get more attention, but a reform opportunity suddenly emerged. That was what led to the STOCK Act” in 2012.

The act banned such activities and required important new disclosures by congressmen buying and selling stocks.

The reform’s passage also had a bipartisan element as conservative investigative author Peter Schweizer’s book “Throw Them All Out” detailed how members of both parties used congressional access to information unavailable to others to enrich themselves.

A ban on lobbying by former members, however, faces one huge obstacle, the First Amendment’s guarantee of every individual citizen’s right to petition the government.

“I don’t think a lifetime ban would pass muster in the courts,” Citizens Against Government Waste President Tom Schatz told The Epoch Times.

“This is prohibiting somebody from engaging in a profession in which they weren’t previously involved, so that is very different than something you would get in the private sector” such as a non-compete clause required by a former employer.”

Schatz also questioned whether a ban would be extended to executive branch officials or congressional staff.

“The problem is they spend too much money period and this won’t change that,” Schatz said.

Weissman noted that “hard First Amendment questions almost always involve balancing tests, and there are already time-limited restrictions on revolving door jobs for Members of Congress. A permanent ban requires a comparable balancing test.”

Contact Mark Tapscott at mark.tapscott@epochtimes.nyc

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