Here’s a “fictional” example of how the game starts in D.C. An attorney from a prestigious law firm, like perhaps Akin, Gump, is walking down Pennsylvania Ave. and he or she runs into Washington state 5th District congresswoman, Cathy McMorris-Rodgers. They exchange plesantries and promise to meet for lunch sometime.
That is it. Elapsed time is two or three minutes.
The attorney turns around and rushes back to the office and sends a memo to the managing partner saying he or she had just come from a “meeting” with the congresswoman who by implication (since she gave the lawyer/lobbyist the time of day) reaffirmed her support for many of the firm’s clients.
This is called “maintaining the relationship” and since Ms. McMorris-Rodgers is a member of House Speaker Paul Ryan’s leadership team, this also calls for “time-value billing,” not the usual percentage of the attorney’ hourly rate of $800. The rationale is that if you solve a client’s problem with one 15 minute call that saves the client thousands of dollars, a portion of the value derived from the call is included.
Thus, the monthly bill only reads $1000 for a “meeting with Cathy McMorris-Rodgers.” Most firms today prefer the even more lucrative “retainer agreement” in which the client pays a flat fee for your services whether one uses them or not. The monthly bill then says $5000 “for services provided.”
And then the lawyer bills ALL the firm’s 15 clients because they indirectly derive benefit from the firm’s connections and stature. This is pure greed by any other name. Others may call it fraud.
And of course Ms. McMorris-Rodgers knows her name is being used but looks the other way because the law firm’s Political Action Committee as well as their client’s PAC’s, will all pony up $5000 contributions come election time. It’s called “pay to play.”
To her credit, former State Senator and Majority Leader Lisa Brown, who is running dead even in the polls with Ms. McMorris-Rodgers, refuses to accept corporate PAC money. The incumbent is of course raking in the dollars.
This unholy alliance between the lawyer/lobbyists on K Street and members of Congress is one of many things that have to change if one is serious about “draining the swamp.”
In the all too life-like television series, House of Cards, Congressman on the rise Frank Underwood, in the first episode does an aside. He is talking about his press secretary who is leaving to become a well-paid lobbyist.
Underwood looks into the camera and says his press secretary had a choice between money and power: “He chose money over power – in this town, a mistake nearly everyone makes. Money is the Mc-mansion in Sarasota that starts falling apart after 10 years. Power is the old stone building that stands for centuries.”
The key to power in D.C. is a pernicious seniority system which rewards longevity but not necessarily competence. Elected public service was never envisioned by the Founding Fathers (Who favored a system of checks and balances) to be a life-time sinecure.
They understood well the siren song and that absolute power not only would corrupt absolutely but would be the end of the Republic’s embrace of democracy. The answer to this one is term limits, but not just for elected officials, for the top tier career civil service also.
One will know an Administration is serious about true change when they see the following:
1. A “wage and price control board” set up to enforce a ceiling on a lobbyists’ hourly rate and an annual cap on retainer agreements and fees, along with the elimination of success fees;
2. A five-year “no contact” rule adopted whereby a top civil servant cannot lobby their old department or agency;
3. A prohibition for former members of Congress on representing foreign governments;
4. A limit on gifts of $25;
5. No three-martini lunches nor expensive dinners; everyone pays for their own meal.
6. No bundling of charges to all clients.
7. No billing the client for billing time.
As for term limits, the following:
1. Twelve years maximum in any major elected federal office and twelve years max in any statewide office.
2. Same restrictions for elected officials as for lobbyists.
3. On political contributions by individuals as well as corporate PACs a cap of $250 per person per candidate whether given as part of a PAC’s contribution or personally. Personal contribution is credited to person signing the check—no spouse-splitting.
4. For senior civil servants, (up to Senior Executive Service—GS-14 and above) if selected, another twelve years allowed.
These suggestions would indicate a serious effort to drain the swamp because they limit the money and hopefully reduce the greed.