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Wayne Post
  • MOYERS AND WINSHIP: The revolving door is always spinning

  • To those who would argue that the notion of a perpetual motion machine is impossible, we give you the revolving door – that ever-spinning entrance and exit between public service in government and the hugely profitable private sector. It never stops.

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  • To those who would argue that the notion of a perpetual motion machine is impossible, we give you the revolving door – that ever-spinning entrance and exit between public service in government and the hugely profitable private sector. It never stops.
    Yes, we’ve talked about the revolving door until we’re red or blue in the face (the door is bipartisan and spins across party lines) but this mantra bears its own perpetual repetition, a powerful reason for our distrust of the people who make and enforce our laws and regulations.
    It’s a wonder all of Washington doesn’t lie prostrate in the streets, overcome by vertigo from all the spinning back and forth. But while we’re at it, remember that this whirling frenzy isn’t limited to the federal government. There are revolving doors installed at the exits and entrances of every state capitol in the country. The temptation for officeholders to seek greener pastures in lobbying can be even greater in statehouses where salaries are small and legislative sessions infrequent.
    A quick search of newspapers around the country reveals how pernicious the problem is. On Feb. 22, the Los Angeles Times reported “the abrupt resignation” of State Sen. Michael J. Rubio to take a government affairs job with Chevron: “As chairman of the Senate Environmental Quality Committee, Rubio was leading the charge to make California’s environmental laws more business-friendly and has introduced bills during his two years in office that affect the oil industry in his Central Valley district.”
    Florida, that inflamed big toe of American politics, is one of the worst offenders, even as the state debates a sweeping ethics reform bill that keeps in place a current law that prevents departing members from lobbying the legislature for a two-year “cooling off” period – but postpones for two years a similar ban on doing business with the governor and state agencies.
    Earlier this month, Mary Ellen Klas of The Miami Herald wrote, “There are now more people registered to lobby the governor, the Cabinet and their agencies — 4,925 — than there are registered to lobby the 160-member Legislature — 3,235.” Dozens of them are former legislators and staff members “as well as former utility regulators, agency secretaries, division heads and other employees.”
    You get the picture. In 15 states, according to the progressive Center for Public Integrity, “there aren’t any laws preventing legislators from resigning one day and registering as lobbyists the next.” What’s more, in many of the 35 states that do have restrictions, “the rules are riddled with loopholes, narrowly written or loosely enforced.”
    Which is why Glenn Harlan Reynolds, law professor, libertarian and head honcho of the political blog Instapundit, may be on to something. In a column for USA Today last month, he suggested, “… Let's involve the most effective behavior-control machinery in America: The Internal Revenue Code.
    Page 2 of 2 - “In short, I propose putting 50 percent surtax — or maybe it should be 75 percent, I'm open to discussion — on the post-government earnings of government officials. So if you work at a cabinet level job and make $196,700 a year, and you leave for a job that pays a million a year, you'll pay 50 percent of the difference — just over $400,000 — to the Treasury right off the top. So as not to be greedy, we'll limit it to your first five years of post-government earnings; after that, you'll just pay whatever standard income tax applies.”
    The conservative Boston Herald endorsed the idea, comparing an ex-legislator or official’s connections and knowledge to intangible capitol and Reynolds’ scheme to a capital gains tax.
    Imagine – conservatives and libertarians making a favorable comparison to the capital gains tax! This and that Russian meteor may be signs of the apocalypse. Just gives you an idea of how deeply awful and anti-democratic the revolving door is, no matter which side you’re on. That’s why it has to be slowed down if not completely stopped – and why we’ll keep talking about it.
     
    Bill Moyers is managing editor and Michael Winship, a native of Canandaigua, is senior writer of the weekly public affairs program, “Moyers & Company,” airing on public television. Check local airtimes or comment at www.BillMoyers.com.
     

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