July 2008

Old Congress critters never die, they just go to K Street.

Take Dennis Hastert. Actually, he’s already taken. The longtime Republican lawmaker retired last November, but rather than return to Illinois, he has alighted just a few blocks from the Capitol at the blue-chip lobbying firm of Dickstein Shapiro. The firm lured Hastert with more than half a million bucks in annual pay, designating him “strategic counselor” on the legislative needs of its corporate clientele.

Dickstein Shapiro brags that it lobbies for more than 100 of the Fortune 500 corporations– a lineup that includes tobacco giants, drug companies, the nuclear industry, mercenaries like Triple Canopy, and such brand names as AT&T and Time-Warner. Hastert will feel right at home in this crowd, for he was always a faithful legislative errand runner for corporate America. Indeed, corporate interests essentially ran the place when Hastert was Speaker of the House, with the likes of super-lobbyist Jack Abramoffgiven a free hand to cut corrupt deals. While Dennis no longer has the muscle to ram through a corporation’s agenda, he certainly has his old buddy network and insider knowledge to get favors done–this time for personal gain.

Hastert is hardly the only Capitol Hill alum to cash in on his public trust. In recent years, more than 200 former members have made the lucrative metamorphosis from lawmaker to lobbyist, and Congress’s feeble ethics rules even let members openly shop for lobbying jobs while they’re supposed to be doing their legislative work. This is a revolving door system that special interests are happy to exploit–last year, they paid nearly $3 billion to hire Washington influence peddlers. That’s $17 million for every day Congress was in session.

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And Congress critters wonder why their public approval rating is a humiliating 11 percent.

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