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K Street Files: Skeptics Query Timing of Job Negotiation Disclosures

Original revolving-door restrictions, making these matters of public record, have been rendered worthless over time

Scott J. Ferrell/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Emerson did not disclose her job negotiations until a few days they began.

The news that Rep. Jo Ann Emerson was taking a lobbying gig early next year broke the morning of Dec. 3. A few hours later, a one-page disclosure that the Missouri Republican was in job talks filed with the House Ethics Committee became public in the basement of the Cannon House Office Building.

Across the Capitol a few days later, Sen. Jim DeMint filed a similar notice with the Secretary of the Senate only after it already had been reported he was leaving government to take over The Heritage Foundation.

This, according to Public Citizen’s Craig Holman, is an example of a pretty worthless disclosure rule.

The whole point of requiring filings whenever lawmakers enter into job negotiations with a private employer is to give the public a glimpse into any potential conflicts of interest.

The changes were included in the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007. But Holman said the way the law was written and interpreted has watered down its intentions.

“We got taken is what happened,” Holman said.

For starters, House members file their notifications and recusals with the Ethics Committee, which determines when, or if, the filings will go to the Clerk of the House, where they are made public.

In Emerson’s case, she disclosed that her job negotiations with the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association began on Nov. 19. She signed her form on Nov. 23. It made its way to the Legislative Resource Center in Cannon at 3 p.m. on Dec. 3.

“Originally, we had some strong revolving-door language in there,” Holman said. “The Democratic House chairmen, several of them, revolted against the revolving-door language. They gutted the revolving-door restrictions.”

Holman said he also didn’t realize that instead of having the reports filed directly with the Clerk of the House, which would make them a matter of public record, the House side mandated that they go to the Ethics Committee, which is bound by confidentiality. Senators, on the other hand, must file with the Secretary of the Senate, which makes the disclosures public.

DeMint’s report, time-stamped around the time he was addressing his soon-to-be colleagues at the conservative think tank, lists the “date of commencement of negotiations/arrangement and recusal” as Dec. 5 — one day before he and Heritage announced it was a done deal.

Despite the time lag for making Emerson’s report public and the timing of DeMint’s disclosure, these two departing members at least filed forms. Most members of Congress who decamp for private gigs have not. Just a handful of forms are on file in the Cannon basement and the Senate Office of Public Records. For example, no House disclosures or recusals from 2010 exist — or they haven’t been made public.

“When you’re talking about a serious position and compensation related to that position, they’re supposed to be filed,” said lobbying and ethics expert Ken Gross, a partner with Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom. “You can’t avoid it by having a headhunter or a lawyer negotiate on your behalf.”

Other members who have filed recent forms include Sen. Richard G. Lugar, R-Ind., who lost his bid for re-election earlier this year. He has disclosed job talks with Georgetown University, the speakers bureau Keppler Associates Inc., the German Marshall Fund of the United States and the University of Indianapolis. On Friday, he announced an affiliation, which includes teaching, at the Indianapolis college.

Retiring Rep. Dan Boren, D-Okla., filed a disclosure in June that he was in negotiations with the Chickasaw Nation. He announced that same month that he would become the tribe’s president of corporate development after leaving the Hill.

Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich, D-Ohio, also disclosed in late August that he has been in negotiations with the Keppler Speakers Bureau.

Despite the intent behind the rules, Holman said, “We really don’t have any prior knowledge of the negotiations.”

K Street Moves

The new Internet Association has uploaded Gina Grandinetti Woodworth as its vice president of public policy and government affairs. The group’s members include Facebook, Google, Amazon.com, Yahoo, eBay, LinkedIn and AOL.

Woodworth most recently was senior director of federal government affairs for the video game lobby Entertainment Software Association. She was also staff director of the Senate High Tech Task Force.

“I am proud of the bipartisan team we are building,” said IA president and CEO Michael Beckerman. “We have a strong group who are all dedicated to protecting Internet freedom. We are still growing, and I look forward to adding more great people to our team in the next year.”

Please send tips to kstreet@rollcall.com.

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