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U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins’ decision to launch a lobbying and political strategy company before leaving office is deeply distasteful.
Jenkins set up her new firm in mid-November. “I’m pleased to share,” she wrote on Facebook, “that I have recently established LJ Strategies LLC, a consulting firm providing strategic analysis, comprehensive federal and state government relations, political consulting and association management.”
Federal law prohibits Jenkins from personally lobbying her former House colleagues for a year after she leaves office early next year. But she is free to lobby on state issues at any time.
Turning public service into lobbying cash is always a concern. But Jenkins’ decision to start a lobbying company before she even leaves Congress turns a troublesome revolving door into a wide open window of potential conflicts of interest.
The House is expected to take important votes before adjourning, tackling a spending bill and farm legislation, among other measures. Jenkins’ Kansas constituents will have reason to be skeptical about whether she has their best interests in mind as she casts those votes, especially since she’s departing public office and won’t face voters again.
A Jenkins spokesperson says the congresswoman has talked with the House Ethics Committee about her decision. The spokesperson also said Jenkins’ firm will not seek clients until she’s out of office.
Her office did not respond to our request for comment. But just because the Ethics Committee says something is legal doesn’t make it right.
Jenkins’ questionable career plan underscores the need to strengthen the federal law mandating a one-year “cooling off” period between legislative service and lobbying. It must make clear that members cannot establish side businesses involving lobbying or political services before they leave office.
We’d go further. Congress should prohibit outgoing members from having any involvement in any firm, as an employee or owner, that seeks to lobby at any level for at least one year after the end of their term or following their resignation.
Former lawmakers have a right to earn a living. But members of Congress are paid well — $174,000 a year — and should be able to delay lobbying for a year as part of their public service.
This is a bigger problem than most people know, and it isn’t limited to Jenkins. Former Rep. Jim Slattery, who once represented the Kansas 2nd District, lobbied this year for Kansas City Southern, among other companies. Former Missouri Sen. Kit Bond counted Southwest Airlines as a client.
Former Sen. Bob Dole lobbied for Boyd Gaming.
The Center for Responsive Politics, a campaign watchdog group, keeps a database of “revolving door” lobbying. The group’s website, Open Secrets, includes 466 former members of Congress in the revolving door database. Jenkins has just been added to the list.
Revolving door lobbying isn’t limited to former members of Congress, either. Capitol Hill aides regularly leave their government jobs to lobby their former colleagues. Pat Leopold, Jenkins’ former chief of staff, is a part of LJ Strategies LLC.
This sorry record is one reason the passage of the Clean Missouri ethics reform initiative in November was so important. It won’t solve every problem, but the measure requires Missouri legislators to wait two years before lobbying. The longer cooling off period should reduce conflicts of interest and limit the sale of public service.
Unfortunately, a handful of lawmakers resigned early to avoid being subjected to the two-year waiting period.
Voters across the nation are demanding a renewed focus on ethics in their government. Their important message is quite clear: Holding an elected office should be a goal in itself, not a stepping-stone to a lucrative private career peddling influence.