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Rhoden Proposes Lobbying Ban; Rounds Worries about Paychecks

In his five-point plan to reform Washington D.C., GOP Senate candidate Larry Rhoden proposes banning former members of Congress from lobbying.

Such a ban would have denied both Stephanie Herseth Sandlin and John Thune their first out-House paychecks. Larry Pressler has lobbied. As Mr. Montgomery notes, nearly half of former Congresspeople go to work as lobbyists, up from just 3% forty years ago.

Rhoden challengers Mike Rounds and Stace Nelson both speak up against Rhoden's lobbying ban, though for notably different reasons. Nelson says money is exerting more undue influence than former Congresspeople:

It is not the lobbyists who carry the special interest monies to our elected officials that is the problem, but the legalized bribery and the mass amount of monies given to Congress and candidates who these special interests want to control [Rep. Stace Nelson, quoted in David Montgomery, "Rhoden Wants Ban on Lobbying by Ex-Members of Congress," Political Smokeout, 2013.12.18].

Rounds is worried about money, too... the amount of money he'd be able to make after leaving the Senate:

Mike Rounds, the Republican frontrunner, said he didn’t think the permanent ban would have a big positive impact — but said it would affect members of Congress’ “ability to earn a living after they leave Congress.” Depriving former members of Congress of a lucrative post-Congressional career, Rounds said, could make members less likely to leave office [Montgomery, 2013.12.18].

Nelson focuses on keeping power with voters; Rounds focuses on helping his people put money in their pockets. And don't forget, Mike: lobbying ban or not, we the voters retain just as much power to help any incumbent leave office.

Nelson is right that big money from corporations and other folks who never face voters at the polls is a larger problem than former Congresspeople leveraging their public positions into personal profit and undue influence on legislation. But I can see a case for saying to a retired or ousted Congressperson, "We've given you your chance to exert enormous influence over legislation; now you need to step out of the building... at least for a while."

I don't want to take away any First Amendment rights from former members of Congress. Stephanie, Larry, and others retain their right to participate in the political process, to make public speeches, to urge their Congresspeople to vote yea or nay, just like any other citizen. They retain the right to make a living. The question with a lobbying ban is whether we have the right to restrict one small class of individuals from one method of making of living, the sale of the value of a reputation, knowledge, and access to power granted by the public.

Readers, I open the question to you: is lobbying by former Congresspeople a major problem requiring reform? And does such a ban violate fundamental rights retained by former members as citizens?


  1. Rick 2013.12.20

    Great comparison, Cory. Rounds and Nelson agree, yet Rounds' concerns are patently corrupt while Nelson's focus is on sound public policy.

    I've heard Rounds offer weak reasons for his votes and positions before, and figured it was because he was rationalizing a wicked position, like his state gag law. Now it's clear he just isn't that smart.

    To your question, lobbying by former members of Congress is a minor concern provided there is a period of a year or two separating their terms in office and their entries to lobbying. Maybe increasing it to four years may be a positive adjustment. But in politics, the saying "when you're out, you're out" definitely applies to exiting officeholders. The ringing of phones is quickly replaced by the chirping of crickets.

  2. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.12.20

    Is there much difference, Rick, in the chirping between former members who retire on top and those whom voters kick out?

  3. Rick 2013.12.20

    Cory, all that matters is how others in the Washington working climate viewed the exiting member and not how they exited.

    Daschle landed on his feet immediately and had identified the firm where he would lobby once the cooling off period began. Of course, it helps to be a former majority leader, but his success has been determined by his drive. Vin Webber has been remarkably successful, but I can't see how his former House membership crossed any serious ethical or legal lines. North Dakota's Conrad and Dorgan had their exit strategies, as have many others over time. I can't remember ever hearing how public policy was adversely affected by a growing number of former members finding new offices on K Street.

    I think when you cross that line to becoming a lobbyist, you don't lose friends, but you change the dynamics of friendships. As any lobbyist will tell you, it's all about personal relationships. And as LBJ said about Washington, it ain't who you know that matters as much who you get to know.

    The false assumption Larry Rhoden makes is effective lobbyists representing causes he personally doesn't like are the problem. That's just plain wrong. Stace is absolutely correct about Congress and state legislatures being bought by big bucks and ignoring who put them in office and why they are in office. To govern wisely.

    An effective lobbyist doesn't need to be a former office holder to be effective. Being an office holder entitles one to a certain celebrity status that instantly disappears when he/she exits the office. When they get into the lobbying business, they have an edge for a little while, but they won't be successful if they lack talent and tenacity.

  4. Cranky Old Dude 2013.12.20

    It would seem benefical to keep ex-congressweasels from cycling right back in as lobbyists. Maybe Nelson and Rhoden are both right to some exent. Those former members may have more access than some others and they are often the channel for those "big bucks." I like the idea of a waiting period instead of a ban. Now if we could just get Universal Background Checks for elected officials...

  5. interested party 2013.12.20

    Dinner and cocktails for two to anyone really believing that Rhoden won't lobby in Pierre after he leaves the legislature.

  6. DB 2013.12.20

    "Rounds and Nelson agree, yet Rounds' concerns are patently corrupt while Nelson's focus is on sound public policy."

    More like Rounds gives you the reality of it while Stace gives you the pipedream.

  7. TG 2013.12.20

    Did you catch the 56 family members part? That doesn't include in-laws or friends. Seems the special interests are being run by a VERY small subset of people and the cycle perpetuates. That's disturbing to me. If you took the stats of all persons in the House and Senate since 2007 (including incumbants not vacating), I'd bet that 56 number would be a pretty high % of the total. Throw in friends and former Congress people and my guess is the number would be astonishing. While I have never even thought of this before, this measure is almost or equally important as term limits. I mean that only IF we're willing to address the problems...

  8. Disgusted Dakotan 2013.12.20

    Rhoden has been patently AGAINST term limits and has repeatedly spoken out against them as well as voted for measures to repeal them. Another case where he will hide who he is and how he has voted to jump on an issue he thinks will get him votes, regardless of his real position on an issue. What else would we expect from a life-long Democrat who simply changed parties to get elected in a Republican district?

  9. Francie 2013.12.20

    The answer to the question is yes....and yes.

  10. Douglas Wiken 2013.12.20

    Term limits are stupid. If voters want to get rid of dolts or crooks, they can vote them out. It is time South Dakotans paid more attention to those helping them and those screwing them.

  11. Roger Elgersma 2013.12.20

    Rounds is no statesman. A statesman doing a great job would not even consider quiting to make more money from the system as a lobbyist. His words affect the lack of quality in his thought. He could win by keeping his mouth shut the first time. If he does again it will be our fault.

  12. Randall 2013.12.20 lobbying by former Congresspeople a major problem requiring reform?

    Yes. Serving as a public servant was never meant to be training for a further career in influence peddling.

    That Mike Rounds thinks it is so might show an insight to his character and perhaps even possible ulterior motives in campaigning for election.

  13. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.12.21

    Randall, you and I are sounding a similar note on this issue of leveraging public service for personal gain. But I wonder: would we extend that same logic to public school teachers? I been a public servant for most of my life, paid by taxpayers to teach students. I've gained skills and expertise about education on the public dime. Would it be improper for me to go to work as a lobbyist for education groups?

  14. barry freed 2013.12.21

    John Thune's Wiki Page has no information about the two years he was a Washington Lobbyist. Today, he and Ms. Noem are Lobbyists for those fighting Health Care Reform, and they are well rewarded in campaign contributions.

  15. Rick 2013.12.22

    If former Congress members lobbying is a real problem, then Sen. Rhoden has a prime opportunity to start at home to set the example. I'm looking forward to seeing him present landmark legislation banning former members of the S.D. Legislature from lobbying legislators and any state government officials. If not, I'm looking forward to his explanation why it really wasn't a good idea after all.

Comments are closed.