Ethics experts suggest former Senate aide Doug Hampton’s indictment last week over allegations that he violated Congressional “revolving door” rules will serve as a stark reminder on Capitol Hill and K Street that lobbying rules carry real penalties.
A federal jury indicted Hampton last week on charges that he broke conflict-of-interest laws because he contacted his former boss, Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), in violation of the chamber’s one-year lobbying ban for former aides.
Although it is not the first time the Justice Department pursued suspected violations of the law — both then-Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) and his former chief of staff Neil Volz pled guilty to conspiracy to violate Volz’s one-year lobbying ban — attorneys knowledgeable with the ethics process said the indictment will likely reverberate on Capitol Hill.
“It seems as though periodically it’s required on Capitol Hill that every few years there be a somewhat seismic event that grabs everybody by the lapels and tells them these rules are real and you have to follow them. ... this is a cleansing process that repeats itself over and over again,” said one attorney who regularly represents Members and aides.
According to the indictment released Thursday, Hampton is charged with violating rules that prohibit Senate aides from lobbying for one year after leaving their post.
After quitting Ensign’s office, Hampton became a consultant for two Las Vegas-based companies, and he has said that Ensign helped him to find lobbying clients.
However, the indictment does not name Ensign, and the Nevada Senator’s attorney announced in December that the Justice Department declined to pursue allegations against Ensign.
Ensign acknowledged in 2009 that he had an affair with Hampton’s wife, Cynthia, who was a campaign aide.
Hampton’s arraignment is scheduled for Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
Although Hampton’s saga has garnered attention for its more salacious details, his indictment still puts a spotlight on post-employment rules.
“I do not think that the significance of this is lost,” the attorney said.
Under ethics and lobbying reform rules enacted in 2007, both Senate and House aides face similar prohibitions from lobbying their former employers for one year. Senior House aides cannot contact their former employers or offices, while Senate aides are barred from lobbying the entire chamber during that time.
Stan Brand, a defense attorney and former House general counsel, noted that the lobbying ban has become “a standard feature when the DOJ pursues public corruption cases.
“Obviously the department is relying on this now routinely where they think it’s appropriate,” Brand said. “It should put everybody on notice.”
He added: “It’s another arrow in [the DOJ’s] quiver, and it’s a lot easier to prove than bribery with all the problems they’ve experienced using that statute both legally and tactically. And it’s a felony, so it’s just as good from their standpoint.”
Brett Kappel, an attorney at the firm Arent Fox, expressed doubt that Hampton’s indictment would prompt hand-wringing among people subject to the lobbying ban, but he said it could create a chilling effect among would-be informants.