Many of the Democracy-Defending Ex-Senators Who Signed That WaPo Op-Ed Are Also Lobbyists

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Last night, the Washington Post published an op-ed signed by 44 former senators. It said... very little, really, but warned the U.S. is entering a “dangerous period,” on the “eve of the conclusion” of Robert Mueller’s investigation and the Democratic House commencing investigations into Trump. The ex-lawmakers “urge[d] current and future senators to be steadfast and zealous guardians of our democracy by ensuring that partisanship or self-interest not replace national interest.” But the op-ed didn’t suggest any actual actions, except basically just ‘defend democracy.’


It’s easy enough to interpret what that means—don’t let Trump get away with whatever these investigations find—although it’s hard to imagine why this would be aimed at the Democrats as well, who are certainly invested in allowing Mueller’s probe to continue. Still! Whatever, go nuts, you old fuckers.

After the piece’s publication, New York Times Metro correspondent Shane Goldmacher posed an interesting question on Twitter: How many of these people are now lobbyists?

So, I looked it up. A lot of them are very old and long-retired; good for them. Eight of these senators have registered as lobbyists in 2018, and 10 have been registered in the past. But, as Shane’s question implies, not everyone who does what any reasonable person would call “lobbying” registers as a lobbyist; many former members of Congress engage in what’s known as “shadow lobbying,” with job titles like “adviser” and “consultant.”

Of the 18 who are or have been registered lobbyists—about 40 percent of the total former senators who signed onto the op-ed—they represented some godawful clients. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas has registered to represent Comcast, Aetna, and the pharmaceutical company Bayer this year; in previous recent years, she’s represented Monsanto. She also worked for Walmart as an “outside consultant,” and in unrelated news, “received some $96,600 from Walmart employees, their family members, and the company’s PAC” during her time in politics, according to HuffPost.

Bennett Johnston, who represented Louisiana, founded his own lobbying firm, Johnston & Associates, which works with Steptoe & Johnson, a lobbying and law firm with offices in DC and around the world. He’s also “served on the boards of Chevron, Freeport-McMoran Copper & Gold, URS, and Columbia Energy Group,” according to his Steptoe bio, which also touts that his clients over the years have included the American Petroleum Institute, Boeing, literally Enron, Lockheed Martin, and Exelon. Nice!


Don Riegle of Michigan hasn’t been a registered lobbyist since 2016, but he works for APCO, a lobbying firm, as their chairman of government relations. Riegle’s APCO bio also says he “served on the boards of directors of two New York Stock Exchange listed companies, WellPoint, Inc. and the Stillwater Mining Company.” Same.

Two of the people on the list, Evan Bayh and Tom Daschle, are well-known for their practice of shadow lobbying. Tom Daschle was described by the Sunlight Foundation in 2016 as someone who “largely laid the blueprint for shadow lobbying in Washington” before he finally put a ring on it and registered as a lobbyist; since then, he’s registered to lobby for Blue Cross Blue Shield and CVS Health. Evan Bayh, meanwhile, was attacked during his failed 2016 bid to return to the Senate for being a lobbyist. He said that was a “lie,” because he had never registered, but “he did carve out a lucrative niche in public advocacy, speaking and corporate board positions that allowed him to wield influence as a former lawmaker,” according to Politico. As that story makes perfectly clear, he was, obviously, a lobbyist:

The Indiana-based medical device manufacturer Cook Group hired McGuireWoods to represent its interests in Washington in April 2012, a year after Bayh joined the firm. Soon after, Bayh started speaking publicly against the medical device tax in Obamacare — the specific issue Cook Group signed up McGuireWoods lobbyists to address with members of Congress, according to federal lobbying disclosure filings.


Ben Nelson of Nebraska has never been a registered lobbyist. But he is a “senior adviser” for Agenda Global, which describes itself on LinkedIn as “an entrepreneurial public affairs firm specializing in corporate communications, public relations, grassroots and opinion leader mobilization.” Sounds a lot like lobbying to me! Its website lists Chevron and AT&T among its clients; in fact, the site says it “helped AT&T build a highly successful national advocacy program by integrating and leveraging their federal, state and local advocacy efforts.” Sounds! Like lobbying! To me!

Bob Kerrey has also never been a registered lobbyist, but in 2013 it was reported he would join the Carmen Group, which had $7.5 million in lobbying income that year. Since he never registered, we have no idea what he did for them, or how much he was paid. That’s democracy, baby.


I’m not necessarily saying these people are total hypocrites for signing this op-ed; the piece barely says anything substantive anyway. I just think it’s interesting that we’re expected to listen to these people’s opinions about saving democracy while so many of them actively work to undermine it by taking large sums of money to exert outsized influence on policy on behalf of those who can afford it. I would merely like to live in a world where I never have to listen to what people paid to lobby for Chevron and Aetna, or who actively work to conceal what advocacy work they’re doing and on whose behalf, have to say about “democracy.” All I ask is that we live in a world where oil company executives are in jail and that their lobbyists are paraded through the streets with their pants down and everyone points and laughs at them. Is that so much to ask?

Splinter politics writer.