24 February 2012
The Sunlight Foundation is a prominent United States NGO which seeks to raise awareness of the influences on government. The name of course reflects the famous observation of Supreme Court Justice Brandeis that “sunlight is the best disinfectant”.
This week the Foundation, as part of its commitment to openness and transparency, has reported how lobbying firms swallow a large percentage staff members supporting Representatives  and  Senators. Nearly 400 staff members who have left supporting roles in Congress since 2009 are now registered lobbyists.
Perhaps surprisingly advertising and public relations firms in ‘K’ street, took on only half as many former House staff as the lobbyist firms. What was concluded from the study was that “staff build up contacts and policy and political expertise. Then they often go “downtown” and cash in, taking their expertise and networks with them”.
It is conversion of these skills and contacts for partisan and commercial advantage that concerns institutions committed to strengthening good government and democratic processes.
The study found that moving to work in a lobbying firm offers the best remuneration for House staff members but is also the most demanding. In addition to advertising, other ‘downtown’ options included representing trade and professional organisations.
There is a similar pattern in Canada, Britain and Australia. Because there is no registration requirement for lobbyists in New Zealand, it is more difficult to assess the extent to which former staff of MPs and Ministers remain active in and around Parliament.