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‘Reverse’ revolving door now common in D. C.

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 By George Waring 3-26-14

                In addition to his “Nation” magazine articles on contemporary lobbying in Washington, D.C., reporter Lee Fang is publishing articles on line in RepublicReport.org. These give us detailed descriptions of the extent to which an unregulated lobbying system now dominates Congress and the Executive Branch. It’s difficult to pick out the most obnoxious examples of this conquest of our government by wealthy lobbyists and their corporate paymasters, but a scan of just the past few weeks surfaces these three examples of the oligarchy’s method of controlling American “Democracy.”

Example One: Stephen Sayle

                During last year Mr. Sayle was the CEO of Dow Lohnes Government Strategies, a lobbying firm retained by Chevron to influence Congress and the White House. For fees that totaled $320,000 a year, Sayle and his team of lawyers lobbied on a range of energy-related issues. These included weakening the enforcement of the Environmental Protection Agency’s rules adopted under the Clean Air Act and the regulation of ozone standards. Sayle and his assistants also lobbied Congress and the EPA to weaken the laws and regulations “related to offshore oil, natural gas development and oil spills.”

                Since the beginning of this year, Mr. Sayle has procured a new occupation. He went from being a lobbyist to being a senior staff member of the House of Representatives Committee on Science. The Committee sports seventeen Republicans who have received $3.5 million of oil industry contributions in their careers. The committee’s mandate is to maintain the United States’ “scientific and technical leadership in the world.” Sayle’s transition from outsider to insider was engineered by Committee Chair, Rep. Lamar Smith.    

                Representing a gerrymandered district in San Antonio, Smith has served 26 years in the House, compiling a perfect voting record for Big Oil in opposing EPA’s regulation of greenhouse gases, proposals to give tax credits for renewable energy or energy conservation, and attempts to raise fuel efficiency standards. In December, Smith chaired a subcommittee hearing focused on testimony from climate change skeptics refuting the thesis that climate change is manmade. Smith’s committee also heard oil industry bankrolled scientists refuting government studies on the direct connection between air pollution and disease.

                Shortly before Smith hired Chevron’s chief lobbyist, Sayle was given a $500,000 bonus by his lobbying firm, which cynics considered a “pass-through” from an appreciative oil giant.

Example Two: Stefan Selig

                Mr. Selig has been recently the Executive Vice Chairman of Global Corporate and Investment Banking at Bank of America in New York. As such he received several multimillion dollar Christmas bonuses since the Paulson-Bernanke bailout of 2008 for “too-big-to-fail banks.”

                In November of 2013, last year, President Obama nominated Selig to be the new Under Secretary for International Trade at the Department of Commerce. This position makes him the administration’s leader in the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade negotiations. Selig received some $9 million in bonus pay from B of A when he was nominated. That bonus came in addition to $5.1 million in incentive pay awarded Selig last year.

Example Three: Michael Froman

                Michael Froman is President Obama’s current U.S. Trade Representative, appointed in June last year. He had been serving as a White House adviser on international trade and national security issues. Before 2009 Froman had been an investment banker at Citigroup in New York. During the 1990s he was an assistant to Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, a former head of Goldman Sachs and then, more recently of Citigroup.

                Mr. Froman’s transition from the world of finance to that of government was oiled this time around by Citigroup’s exit payment of over $4 million plus an additional $2 million for his holdings in investment funds. Since the heyday of Robert Rubin during the Clinton Administration, CitiGroup has had an executive contract that provides additional retirement pay for those fortunate enough to take a “full time high level position with the U.S. government or regulatory body.”

                Mr. Froman has been the lead negotiator for the Commerce Department in the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks.

                For reporter Lee Fang, these three gentlemen are examples of a new phenomenon in Washington, the“reverse” revolving door. Instead of the traditional “revolving door” where the chief of staff of Senator Max Baucus’s Finance Committee would leave the government to become an executive in a Wall Street investment bank or in a K Street lobbying firm, now the corporate world is rewarding those loyal executives willing to accept government jobs paying only $200,000 per year. Luckily, as Lee Fang points out, our new government servants have earned quite large corporate bonuses before donning the sackcloth of upper middle class poverty in public service.

George Waring is a retired Montana Tech history professor.

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