Examiner Editorial: Barney Frank jams the revolving door shut 

Peter Roberson, a former staffer for the House Financial Services Committee, may have thought he was moving up in the world when he became a lobbyist for Intercontinental Exchange. But that’s not the way his old boss saw it.

In a rare break with the Hill’s back-scratching culture, Chairman Barney Frank, D-Mass., criticized his former staffer for taking the new job. And Frank did so in the bluntest possible terms, telling Roberson not to show his face around his former boss’s committee.

Were everyone on Capitol Hill to follow Frank’s example, it would dramatically change the paradigm of public service as a mere stepping stone to a cushy K Street job. It would jam up Washington’s revolving door, by which public officials do favors for rent-seeking companies and industries, which later reward them with highly lucrative lobbying gigs.

Every year, hundreds of staffers pass through this door, often with their bosses’ approval and encouragement, and sometimes to join former bosses who’ve previously done so. They use their access on behalf of their new employers, while raising industry money for their old patrons.

It’s a system that works for everyone involved — everyone except the taxpayers and consumers who pay for it all. Thus, it was no surprise last summer when the Washington Post reported more than 350 former staffers and members of Congress had been hired to lobby on Obamacare. When the bill passed through the Senate Finance Committee chaired by Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., the biggest special interests in the health care field were represented at the bargaining table by two former Baucus chiefs of staff.

Current toothless congressional ethics rules prescribe a one-year moratorium for lobbying of  former staff colleagues. But Frank instructed his subalterns “to have no contact whatsoever with Mr. Roberson on any matters involving financial regulation for as long as I am in charge of that committee staff.” He also stripped Roberson of committee duties the moment he learned he was negotiating for a lobbying job. This is unheard of in Washington, a town lubricated with greased palms. It was a bold and courageous move.

In coming days, this newspaper will ask every other committee chairman and ranking minority member to take the Frank Pledge and promise to keep staffers-turned-lobbyists away from their committees. It takes a leader with guts and integrity to safeguard good government. We salute Frank for his stand, and we hope that other lawmakers will follow his lead.

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Doug Graham

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