Nothing is more corrosive to the American people’s trust in government than the revolving door where too many officials turn their so-called public service into multi-million dollar riches unimaginable to most Americans. This shows the American people how the inside game in Washington, DC is rigged against them and how the rich, powerful and well-connected line their pockets and promote their interests at the expense of the country. This cashing-in is destroying faith in government and government officials.
The Department of Justice’s (DOJ) most recent Chief of the Criminal Division Lanny Breuer’s spinning through it is only the latest example: he was partner at a major DC law firm representing corporate clients before DOJ, then he became a senior official at DOJ making decisions whether or not to prosecute those same or similar corporate clients, and now he goes back to private practice representing those same or similar corporate clients with legal issues before, bingo, DOJ. Isn’t much of his new multi-million dollar pay package due to the high level connections, high profile and intimate knowledge of DOJ he gained while doing his ‘public service’ at DOJ? Isn’t that knowledge and experience gained ‘serving’ the public going to be put to use now for the highest paying corporations and wealthiest individuals, most often corporate executives?
It may not be considered illegal or unethical, but there’s a good argument that it should be and, regardless, it looks terrible and the American people see it for what it is: insiders selling their public experience to the highest bidder, which is definitely not them.
While it is true that public officials can be better in their public positions due to prior private sector experience, that is too often used as nothing more than a cover story for spinning through the not-coincidentally-always-lucrative revolving door. Of course, this horrible appearance of conflict could be rebutted if the person in office had a demonstrable record of being tough and aggressive against his or her former and future corporate clients and wealthy patrons, but when was the last time anyone saw that?
And, as has been widely reported, Mr. Breuer himself headed DOJ’s criminal division when it appears to have been unable to find Wall Street, never mind any actual crime on Wall Street, even though it just caused the biggest financial collapse since the Great Crash of 1929 and has given the country the worst economy since the Great Depression. Yet, no prosecution of a major Wall Street bank or executive? I believe history is going to judge this DOJ very, very harshly.
And, as for the claim that the public is protected because such former officials have a cooling off period of a year or two, I believe that only applies to direct representation of clients before DOJ. I’m not aware of any limitation on representing clients before the rest of the government, where connections, influence and inside knowledge were also gained during the ‘public service.’ And, the representation limitation before DOJ doesn’t apply, I believe, if the former official is just giving ‘advice’ to other lawyers in his or her firm who happen to be representing the client before DOJ. It’s reminiscent of those who do not formally register as lobbyists because they just provide all the information, connections and other inside goodies indirectly rather than directly.