In-Depth: Sponsoring Rep. Trey Hollingsworth (R-IN) reintroduced this bill from the 115th Congress to prohibit former members of Congress from returning to the Capitol as lobbyists after they leave office:
“Hoosiers are tired of politicians putting their careers — present or future — ahead of the needs of their constituents. This bill is simple: you can never be a lobbyist after being a Representative or Senator. Congress must put Americans first, solve problems for Americans, and improve the lives of Americans.”
Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL), the original cosponsor of an identical Senate bill introduced by Sen. Mike Braun (R-IN), adds:
"Rather than serving the public, too many in Washington spend their political careers preparing for a lucrative job at a DC lobbying firm where they can cash in on their connections and their access. Congress should never serve as a training ground for future lobbyists, and putting an end to the revolving door is a common sense way to make Washington work for families.”
Scott Amey, general counsel at the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), says bills like this are often introduced at the start of new Congressional sessions:
"You generally do see more of a reform agenda from some of the newer members that come into the Senate or into the House. We’re hoping some of their policies actually gain traction and can be supported in a bipartisan way. The public is tired of politics as usual.”
UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh, a First Amendment expert, believes a lifetime lobbying ban wouldn't survive legal challenges:
“The First Amendment right to petition the government includes the right to talk to one’s representatives; and, as with the freedom of speech and of the press, that includes talking for money. A lifetime ban on such speech by former legislators would be unconstitutional.”
Rep. Hollingsworth counters that this bill wouldn't restrict free speech, as it doesn't ban calling legislators to express opinions as private citizens. He says, "[Former Members] can call [their] legislator just like any other constituent. It puts [them] on the same playing field and removes the incentive for [them] to do things in [their] public role only to benefit [their] next career.”
Former Sen. Roland Burris (D-IL), who was a lobbyist before his appointment to President Barack Obama's vacated Senate seat, adds that this bill would deprive the public of well-informed experts who can put their expertise to use. He says, "If you cut all of that knowledge off, it would be a disservice to the country." Rep. Hollingsworth disagrees with Burris' position, saying, "I don't want lawmakers with a sufficient knowledge of how the system works pushing their own special interests."
Bruce Mehlman, of lobbying firm Mehlman Castagnetti Rosen & Thomas, argues that this bill could have unintended consequences, and isn't comprehensive:
“The bigger challenge is that registered lobbying represents only a small part of the total spent on influencing government policy, and this proposed law would merely encourage even more ex-Members to avoid disclosure while serving as ‘senior advisors,’ ‘strategists’ or ‘consultants at law and PR firms."
There are no cosponsors of this bill in the 116th Congress. Last Congress, this bill had the support of one cosponsor in the House, Rep. Todd Rokita (R-IN), and didn't receive a committee vote. A Senate bill with the same provisions as this bill, also called the BLAST Act, has one cosponsor, Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL), in the current session of Congress.
Lifetime lobbying bans have been introduced by other members of Congress in the past, including by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) in 2018, a bipartisan measure in 2017, Rep. Rod Blum (R-IA) in 2015, and Sens. Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Jon Tester (D-MT) in 2014. Those efforts didn't gain traction, and then-House Speaker Rep. Paul Ryan (R-W) was opposed to even moderate proposals, such as lengthening the wait period to become lobbyists to five years for former House members. In January 2017, Ryan asked, “What if you want to become an advocate for the cancer society? What if you want, after you retired, to help your local hospital system and be on their board to support them and then go get legislation?”
Bruce Freed, president of the Center for Political Accountability, a nonprofit advocating better disclosure of corporate political activity, expects this bill to meet the same fate as past efforts to impose lifetime lobbying bans. Freed points out that any lawmakers who back this measure would be voting to block a route to lucrative post-Congressional employment for themselves.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics in 2017, 434 former members of Congress have worked or currently work as lobbyists