When Former Lobbyists Attack

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.

You know, it would be nice if this sort of thing was shocking rather than routine:

A White House official who once led the oil industry’s fight against limits on greenhouse gases has repeatedly edited government climate reports in ways that play down links between such emissions and global warming, according to internal documents.

My oh my. Whoever could’ve done such a thing?

Mr. Cooney is chief of staff for the White House Council on Environmental Quality, the office that helps devise and promote administration policies on environmental issues.

Before going to the White House in 2001, he was the “climate team leader” and a lobbyist at the American Petroleum Institute, the largest trade group representing the interests of the oil industry. A lawyer with a bachelor’s degree in economics, he has no scientific training.

Yep. Shocked, just shocked. Actually, though, this brings up an important point related to Elizabeth Drew’s latest piece on Congressional corruption. One major “revolving door” problem in Congress is that representatives and senators often leave their positions as elected officials and find lobbying spots or other lucrative positions around Washington. Sometimes this leads to rather blatant conflicts of interest, as when former Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-LA) left his spot as chairman of the House pharmaceutical oversight committee to go… become the president and CEO of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. How this might’ve affected the drafting of the 2003 Medicare bill that Tauzin co-sponsored—a bill replete with pharmaceutical giveaways—well, I’ll leave that to the imagination. But the revolving door revolves both ways; as with Mr. Cooney, industry lobbyists coming into government can pose just as great a problem. Surprisingly, the Office of Government Ethics’ rules and guidelines on conflicts of interest don’t cover this situation. Here’s the OGE’s summary of the relevant statute:

Specifically, this law says that you may not work on an assignment that you know will affect your own financial interests or the financial interests of your spouse or your minor child. The prohibition also applies if you know the assignment will affect the financial interests of your general partner, or of an organization that you serve as an officer, director, employee, general partner, or trustee. And it even applies when you know the matter will affect the financial interests of someone with whom you have an arrangement for employment, or with whom you are negotiating for employment.

In other words, former lobbyists can waltz into government and oversee the industries they used to represent. They just can’t have any direct financial stakes in the matter. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge. Looks like a loophole in need of a bit of attention, no?


Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend