Revolving Door Lobbyists Working for Congress Outnumber Elected Lawmakers

Share Article

Former lobbyists currently working on the congressional payroll to craft legislation significantly outnumber members of Congress. This conclusion by the non-partisan LegiStorm is based on research into more than 130,000 people who have worked as lobbyists or congressional aides since 2000. The data shows far more "revolving door" lobbying activity than has ever been shown before.

Former lobbyists currently working on the congressional payroll helping to craft legislation significantly outnumber members of Congress, according to an exhaustive new analysis by the non-partisan group LegiStorm.

In all, 605 current congressional staff - out of about 14,000 total member, committee and leadership staff - have lobbied in the past decade. They are among the nearly 5,400 current and former congressional staffers that LegiStorm has discovered have gone through the lobbying "revolving door" in the past decade alone. The numbers in the new analysis are far greater than any previous analysis has been able to demonstrate.

"For every person the American people have elected to sponsor legislation of public benefit, special interests have more than one former legislative advocate now working on the inside in Congress," said Jock Friedly, founder and president of LegiStorm. "That represents a large network of people to influence decisions and to provide valuable intelligence."

This conclusion and others come after a comprehensive analysis of hundreds of thousands of records and research into more than 130,000 people who have worked as lobbyists or congressional aides since 2000. The analysis was backed by two years of research into the biographies of tens of thousands of individuals. Daily updates of this revolving door database, as well as biographical information about current and former congressional staffers and much more, are available to subscribers of a new service LegiStorm launched today.

Lobbyists are now flowing into Congress at near-record levels. So far this year, 155 lobbyists have been hired as congressional staffers. The overwhelming number of those former lobbyists - by a record 8-to-1 margin - are Republicans who have taken advantage of a wave of job openings on Capitol Hill caused by their party's landslide victory in House races in 2010. The 155 lobbyists moving to Congress puts this year on pace to be second only to 2007, when Democrats won not only the House but the Senate too. A total of 206 lobbyists joined Congress in 2007. (Friedly said that if past seasonal patterns hold, 2007 will still have higher revolving door activity even after the full 2011 year is complete, since more revolving door activity happens within the first few months of a new congressional session.)

Deploying a combination of efficient person-matching algorithms and very extensive research, the LegiStorm analysis also found more than 5,400 people have been both lobbyists and received paychecks as staff from the legislative branch in the past decade alone, when both salary and lobbying records are available. This total is greater than any previous known estimate of the level of revolving door activity between Congress and K Street, as Washington's lobbying corridor is often known. Untold thousands more worked for Congress in previous years.

An additional 393 current and former members of Congress have appeared as paid lobbyists or foreign agents in the past decade.

Some 388 congressional aides have made the trip through the revolving door from Capitol Hill to lobbying for the first time this year. "On average, every business day this year at least two Hill staffers have decided to cash in their experience and connections to become registered lobbyists," Friedly said.

Of the more than 5,400 revolving door staffer-lobbyists, more than 2,900 filed lobbying paperwork in 2011, indicating they are currently lobbying.

Interestingly, even as the power of Republicans has grown in Washington, in 2010 the outflow of congressional staff into the lobbying industry tilted very slightly toward Democrats for the first time in a decade. That Democratic tilt has continued this year. By comparison, early last decade, Republicans held a decisive advantage over Democrats in taking on lobbying work, with 3 Republicans doing so for every 2 Democrats.

Friedly said the recent Democratic tilt in overall outflow from Congress to the lobbying community reflects both the huge numbers of newly unemployed Democrats in Washington but also the growing importance of lobbying the executive branch - held by Democrats - as Congress has become bottlenecked and has lost discretionary spending power with an earmark ban. "A new Democratic tilt toward lobbying might even signal a bit of a cultural shift as well, as less stigma is attached to that professional choice than in the past," Friedly said.

This revolving door analysis does not include the many thousands of others who were either staffers before Oct. 1, 2001 (when no salary records have been digitized) or who were listed on lobbying filings prior to 2001. Nor does it include unpaid interns, legislative fellows and "detailees" who are paid by the executive branch but help out Congress in exchange for the legislative experience.

And importantly, it only includes registered lobbyists. The LegiStorm analysis does not include many hundreds of others who have represented special interests on legislative activities but can legally evade registering because they are spending less than 20% of their time lobbying or because they are engaging in lobbying support, grassroots lobbying, public relations, policy analysis or other influence work that does not trigger reporting requirements. Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.Dak.) is a frequently cited example of someone who exploits this final exception.

Even forgetting the definition of what constitutes a congressional staffer or lobbyist, Friedly said that if anything, the numbers are conservative because of the unavailability of confirming biographical data in perhaps hundreds of potential staffer-lobbyist matches.

Past efforts to quantify the revolving door have found only a fraction of the total of revolving door lobbyists LegiStorm has been able to find under comparable conditions. Previous efforts been hamstrung by limited scope or data. LegiStorm is the only organization to have all congressional salary data, an extensively cleaned database of lobbying activity and undertaken exhaustive research to sort out who is who. LegiStorm is also the first to consider foreign lobbying, which is cataloged by the Department of Justice, as opposed to domestic lobbying, which is handled by the House and Senate.

LegiStorm found that lobbying-staffer links are often hard to notice due to the spotty quality of  the original data, including the immense variation in reporting of names as well as name changes.

A research team from the London School of Economics, in a recent comprehensive academic paper published to analyze the revolving door based on actual data, found 1,113 revolving door lobbyists who had gone from Congress to K Street. The study relied on 2000-2008 salary data provided by LegiStorm and was a ground-breaking study that showed the importance of connections in earning lobbying revenue. However, the study found less than one-fourth LegiStorm's total of revolving door aides. Their much smaller number of  was largely due to their focus on only a limited number of lobbyists who worked for lobbying firms, as well as relatively limited name cleanup and biographical research into the backgrounds of lobbyist-staffers.

A 2011 analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics, with assistance from Remapping Debate, found a total of 128 former lobbyists in "critically important" positions in the current Congress. That compares to the 605 total former lobbyists found by LegiStorm looking at all positions and having more extensive and accurate information about congressional staff.

A more complete analysis, including the names of all members of Congress and staff who have traveled through the revolving door, is available as part of LegiStorm Pro, a premium suite of advanced legislative information services to complement LegiStorm's free site. Annual and monthly subscriptions are available, as well as a 3-day express option for those looking for specific data or who want to try the product.

About LegiStorm: LegiStorm is a non-partisan organization that has provided an array of data about Congress since its founding 2006 by Jock Friedly, a former investigative journalist. In its short history, LegiStorm has scored a series of firsts - the first to put congressional staff salaries online (and helped spark a national movement to disclose public employee salaries), the first to put a decade's worth of privately financed travel of all members of Congress and staff, the first to disclose all personal financial disclosures of all members of Congress and staff, the first to make congressional earmarks searchable and browsable over the web, the first to track gifts by foreign governments. Today LegiStorm added another first - the first web site to allow searching, browsing and download of all Senate and House expenditures.`


Share article on social media or email:

View article via:

Pdf Print

Contact Author

(202) 360-4172
Email >
Visit website