Here’s the reason government can’t vote in the interest of the people.

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Looking at the agencies, businesses and government and how porous these groups are, it is not hard to see why our government is unable to make decisions unaffected by lobbyists and special interests. Many of these charts show government officials who move back and forth between the government and leadership roles in corporations with special interests or seeking to craft laws to benefit the corporations in question.  Here is an excerpt from Public Citizen, an agency concerned with the revolving door between government and private enterprise and the potential conflict of interests:

“Revolving Door” Restrictions on Federal Employees Becoming Lobbyists

“Revolving door” is a term commonly used to describe a potentially corrupting interrelationship between the private sector and public service. The term is used to describe three distinct transitions for individuals between the private sector and public service:

  • The Government-to-Lobbyist Revolving Door, through which former lawmakers and government employees use their inside connections and knowledge to advance the policy and regulatory interests of their industry clients.
  • The Government-to-Industry Revolving Door, through which public officials move to lucrative private sector roles from which they can use their public service and experience to compromise government procurement contracts and regulatory policy.
  • The Industry-to-Government “Reverse” Revolving Door, through which the appointment of industry leaders and employees to key posts in federal agencies may establish a pro-business bias in policy formulation and regulatory enforcement.

Each of these types of revolving door situations is subject to different statutory and regulatory restrictions.

This fact sheet discusses regulation of the government-to-lobbyist revolving door, which first took shape at the federal level with the Ethics in Government Act of 1978. This law called for a “cooling off” period between retiring as a senior governmental employee in the executive branch of government and representing private interests before executive agencies as a lobbyist. The cooling off period was expanded to include members of Congress and senior congressional staff about a decade later in the Ethics Reform Act of 1989.

Since that time additional statutory and regulatory constraints have addressed some of the problems and abuses associated with the government-to-lobbyist revolving door. These include conflict of interest restrictions on negotiating future employment while serving as a public official, lobbying on legislation in which the former public official played a substantial role in shaping, representing foreign interests and governments, as well as the cooling off period. Although there are similarities of revolving door restrictions applying to officers and employees of the Senate, the House and the executive branch, these restrictions do vary significantly between the two branches of government and the level of government service.

The revolving door of former government officials-turned-lobbyists raises at least two serious ethical concerns:

  • The revolving door can cast significant doubt on the integrity of official actions and legislation. A Member of Congress or a government employee could well be influenced in their official actions by promises of high-paying jobs in the private sector from a business that has a pecuniary interest in the official’s actions while in government.
  • Former government officials turned lobbyists bring with them special attributes developed while working as a public servant. They typically have developed a closed network of friends and colleagues still in government service that they can tap on behalf of their paying clients as well as insider knowledge of legislators and public officials, legislation and the legislative process not available to others. In effect, former officials can “cash in” on their experience as a public servant.

In order to minimize abuses, federal revolving door policies attempt to address both of these concerns: Reducing the conflict of interests that may arise in negotiating future employment while a public employee; and limiting the lobbying activities of former officials for a specified period of time after leaving public office.

Negotiating Future Employment

Conflict of interest laws and regulations governing when and how public officials may seek future employment are very different between the executive branches and Congress. These different restrictions are as follows:

  • Executive Branch Officials and Employees
  • Officers and employees in the executive branch, are generally prohibited from seeking future employment and working on official acts simultaneously, if the official actions may be of significant benefit to the potential employer.[1]
  • Waivers may be granted to this prohibition for a number of reasons, as when the employee’s self-interest is “not so substantial” as to affect the integrity of services provided by the employee, or if the need for the employee’s services outweighs the potential for a conflict of interest, according to federal regulations.[2]
  • The granting of waivers is the responsibility of the director of each executive agency, though the Office of Governmental Ethics (OGE) – the agency that oversees the code of ethics for the executive branch – offers guidelines for waivers.[3]
  • Because of inconsistencies in the standards for granting waivers, President Bush issued an executive order on  January 6, 2004, requiring that agencies first consult with the White House Office of General Counsel. Waivers are not formally public record, unless requested through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).[4]

2.   Congressional Officials and Employees

Other than anti-bribery laws, for members of Congress and their staff:

  • No conflict of interest statute exists, similar to the executive branch, regulating negotiations of future employment.
  • Rules are described in the House and Senate code of ethics, which prohibit members and staff from receiving compensation “by virtue of influence improperly exerted” from their official positions.
  • The rules advise members and staff to recuse themselves from official actions of interest to a prospective employer while job negotiations are underway and for members to seek prior approval from the ethics committee about conducting such job negotiations. However, recusal is not mandatory and there is no system of waivers or public disclosure of these potential conflicts of interest.[5]

Post-Government “Cooling Off” Period

Under criminal statutes, Members of Congress and the employees of both the executive and legislative branches of the federal government are subject to restrictions on post-government lobbying activities.[6]   These restrictions include:

  1. One year “cooling-off” period on lobbying. Generally, former Members of Congress and senior level staff of both the executive and legislative branches are prohibited from making direct lobbying contacts with former colleagues for one year after leaving public service. Specifically:
  • Former members of Congress may not directly communicate with any member, officer or employee of either house of Congress with the intent to influence official action.
  • Senior congressional staff (having made at least 75 percent of a member’s salary) may not make direct lobbying contacts with members of Congress they served, or the members and staff of legislative committees or offices in which they served.
  • Former members of Congress and senior staff also may not represent, aid or advise a foreign government or foreign political party with the intent to influence a decision by any federal official in the executive or legislative branches.
  • “Very senior” staff of the executive branch, classified according to salary ranges, are prohibited from making direct lobbying contacts with any political appointee in the executive branch.
  • “Senior” staff of the executive branch, those previously paid at Executive Schedule V and up, are prohibited from making direct lobbying contacts with their former agency or on behalf of a foreign government or foreign political party.
  • Any former governmental employee, regardless of previous salary, may not use confidential information obtained by means of personal and substantial participation in trade or treaty negotiations in representing, aiding or advising anyone other than the United States regarding those negotiations.
  1. Two-year ban on “switching sides” by supervisory staff of the executive branch. Senior staff in the executive branch who served in a supervisory role over an official matter that involved a specific party, such as a government contract, may not make lobbying contacts on the same matter with executive agencies for two years after leaving public service.
  2. Life-time ban on “switching sides” by executive branch personnel substantially and personally involved in the matter. Senior staff in the executive branch who were substantially and personally involved in an official matter that involved a specific party, such as a government contract, are permanently prohibited from making lobbying contacts on the same matter with executive agencies.

The “cooling off” period applies only to making lobbying contacts with the restricted government agencies or personnel. As a result, a former public official or former senior government employee may research relevant issues, develop lobbying strategies and supervise those lobbying their former agencies or personnel immediately upon leaving office, so long as the former official does not make the actual lobbying contact during the cooling off period. The former official simply directs other lobbyists to make the contact.

July 25, 2005

Endnotes


[1]18 U.S.C. §208.

[2]5 C.F.R. § 2640.301(a).

[3] 5 USC 402.

[4] Andrew Card, “Memorandom for the Heads of Executive Departments & Agencies Re: Policy on Section 208 (B)(1) Waivers with Respect to Negotiations,” January 6, 2004.

[5]House Rule 47; Senate Rule 37.

[6]18 U.S.C. 207.

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News-washing: How fact-free is your news today?

News-washing: A trend that creates a populace unable to make decisions in its own best interests.

News-washing is a portmanteau of a similar vein to brain-washing. I created it to discuss the idea in which events take place that should be turned into news. The event should be described as accurately as possible, as devoid of emotional involvement as possible. This information should then be coupled with the potential ramifications to the people closest to the event, any witnesses and potential participants as well as how it will affect the circumstances locally. As news agencies propagate this information, the relationship of this information related to the people who are having the news distributed to them should be made relevant without distorting the event, or news about the event in relationship to the receiver of the news.

Though the graphic above is relatively self-explanatory I thought I would include how it came to be. In the military, I was trained as an observer, to be able to render an event in an ordered fashion, remaining aware of things like time, placement of people, resources, equipment and events. It is important because your life may depend on what happened in what order and a decision based on those observations can be critical. When I began working as a civilian with the police department, I discovered the ability of the average person to observe events varied widely.

Most people are NOT trained to be aware of how events unfold and during an interview with twenty people regarding an event, you will have twenty different accounts. This is why the police will take statements from everyone they can AND gather evidence to piece together what actually took place.

This is a similar process to what is done for news reporting except with one vital variation: The news grows less effective, less accurate and more distorted the further you are from the event. The best event is one where the journalist (the supposed objective and trained observer) sees it and hopefully without bias reports the event as it happens. Of course, film helps but is no guarantee of objectivity. But once the reporter has done their job, the news is subjected to an potential array of forces, postive and negative:

  • The editor is the first force that controls what is important is and how it is portrayed. They may decide to not report the event or to change the emphasis of the event.
  • The company’s particular slant on the news. If they have a company bias, or an organizational bias, the news article’s commentary may not reflect the event.
  • If it is an issue of national security, it may never see the light of day at all. The military may control what is seen or heard or may send misinformation if its in the “best interest of the nation.”
  • There may also be the conversion of news to propaganda if it serves national or corporate interests to do so.
  • The effectiveness of these tactics may also be augmented by the number of times the news is repeated, repetition is believed to build credibility even if it isn’t true.
  • Resonance is how news may be interpreted by viewers/readers with extensive backgrounds. Their interpretations can either cloud or make clear, important topics to the layreader.
  • Amplitude is the quality of that news service overall. Do they or are they known for producing news that is accurate, high quality and respected by others journalists, organisations or readers.

These six forces are the primary forces affecting our news today. As such, it is becoming increasingly difficult to know who is telling you what and why. So my advice is simple. TRUST NO ONE. Verify everything you can with as many reputable sources as you can. Treat news like you would Wikipedia. Everyone who writes in it isn’t your friend, or knowledgeable or for that matter has an objective point of view.

The hidden agendas of corporate media can lead to strange manipulations of how events may be seen. The chief force in this transformation of news media has been the 24 hour news cycle. Forced to report on news all day long, has made the media, hungry for topics, and often less responsible in these days of needing more news and having less staff, less resources and more responsibility for the bottom line.

News is supposed to hold people long enough for them to see commercials. That is the reality of your news corporations. It’s the primary reason news has become more like info-tainment rather than information.

Unfortunately, much of the world’s events, things that should make it into the mediasphere are instead hidden either as state secrets or corporate secrets held in collusion, often with the consent of governments.

I have watched as:

  • Information that should be in the mainstream media remains unseen or minimally reported
  • Information is watered down with less pertinent facts, personal opinion or through distribution agencies removing news elements via their corporate requirements.
  • Events that should be covered are completely ignored and only covered on smaller networks.
  • Events that have less significance are given greater news coverage.
  • Information from events is covered up, hidden or declared a state secret preventing it from becoming news for general consumption.

I am so suspicious of news media these days, I check and double check information I see everywhere. But since no source is perfect, it is good to have a variety of places to go to. Here is my short news source list. I will add to it when I get a moment. Share yours or dispute mine…

I am open to hearing how you think news-washing is accomplished and what we can do to get more news that isn’t in the hands of megacorporations or billionaires who control media, lock, stock and barrel. The best way to stay ahead of the curve is to be and remain informed. With that in mind, I want to close with an awesome monologue from The Newsroom. How many of the facts that get rattled off do YOU know personally? Brace yourselves. Reality isn’t pretty.