Breaking the Revolving Door

Mike Needham /

Photo credit: Getty Images

Photo credit: Getty Images

The chattering class loves to say Washington is broken. It’s not; this town is a well-oiled machine for special interests. Indeed, if you’re part of the corrupt nexus that encircles big government and special interests, Washington is your best friend.

But there is some evidence that things are changing, and not only with the rise of the Tea Party. Last week, The Hill reported K Street cannot figure out how to lobby Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden, who recently became chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee.

In Washington, the revolving door is a rite of passage. Staff work their way up, either in Congress or through the executive branch, only to move to major lobbying shops to influence their former coworkers on behalf of their current clients.

According to The Hill, “Wyden’s approach to legislating upends the K Street playbook.” A headhunter told the paper “Wyden is not a K Street kind of guy, so people [who] work there don’t tend to go out downtown.” Wyden’s former chief of staff, himself now a lobbyist, said, “If someone hires a former Wyden staffer for that task, they’re wasting their money.”


The head of a legal recruiting firm explained that “Wyden is a bit of an odd duck on the Hill, making decisions primarily on his own view of the merits, which reduces the value of access and lobbying.”

Agree or disagree with Wyden on policy — and let’s be clear, there is a lot to disagree with — the fact that he makes merit-based decisions, often to the frustration of the professional lobbying class in Washington, is a welcome change.

By contrast, another Capitol Hill publication ran a story profiling which lobbyists and special interest groups would thrive if there was a minor shakeup within House Republican leadership. Phrases such as “number of downtown confidants” and “new significance to a number of players on K Street” punctuate the story.

Nothing perpetuates the Washington Ruling Class — and America’s dissatisfaction with Washington — more than this corrupt nexus. The collusion between Washington’s power players does not breed contempt formed out of some deep-seated jealousy; rather, it stems from the very real sense that Washington’s priority is Washington.

And to the extent Washington’s priority list extends beyond the beltway, it is usually with a bias toward growing government. At this week’s hearing on the Internet sales tax, for example, much was made of the ability of states to use this new source of revenue to reduce taxes and stimulate growth. But even in the reddest of red states, that claim is likely to prove illusory. In Alabama, “an online sales tax windfall, if it came, could pay for [proposed] state employee pay raises…”

In 2013, 108 unique organizations registered to lobby on the Senate-passed version of the Internet sales tax, including Heritage Action. We were one of a handful of organizations to oppose the legislation, which to date has failed to gain traction in the Republican-controlled House. But as this week’s hearing demonstrated, there is a sustained push by elite special interests — which include, Best Buy, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Retailers Federation — to push some Internet sales tax scheme across the finish line.

One of the central challenges facing conservatives is to disrupt the corrupt nexus of big government politicians and the special interests that enrich them. Then, and only then, will power be restored to the people and good conservative policy solutions be allowed to flourish.

Michael A. Needham is the chief executive officer of Heritage Action for America. Learn more about Heritage Action and get involved.