Trent Lott and the Politics of Cashing In

Trent Lott and the Politics of Cashing In  Trent Lott in happier times, when his neo- confederate views were ignored by the media Bob Novak excoriates Trent Lott for resigning from the Senate in order to cash in as a lobbyist.

Members of Congress talk among themselves about “getting out to make some money,” and they do not mean pocket change. The swollen federal government and concomitant growth of massive lobbying firms means ex-lawmakers such as Lott and Pickering will quickly be able to pull down seven-figure incomes. For many in today’s Congress, big money trumps public service.

Actually, federal legislators know how to build tidy nest eggs without spending one day in the private sector — none of them much better than Trent Lott. Except for one year as a practicing attorney fresh out of law school, Lott has spent his career on the public payroll — four years as a congressional staffer, 16 years in the House and 19 in the Senate. Nevertheless, the Center for Responsive Politics in 2005 calculated his net worth at between $1.4 million and $2 million, or 42nd among 100 senators. It put his annual income from the Senate and private sources at $289,710, in the top 1.5 percent of American income earners.

That’s not bad for the son of a shipyard worker, and it exceeds the fondest dreams of most of his fellow citizens, but it is not enough for Lott.

I don’t have any objection to Lott trying to make more money. Who among us wouldn’t prefer seven figures to six? My problem is with him doing so barely a year after committing to six years of service.

That he can cash in so easily by lobbying his former comrades is also problematic, of course. But the real problem there is that lawmakers can be lobbied to begin with, not that former Members can hop on the bandwagon. As Ed Morrissey notes,

There is a big connection between swollen federal government and growth of massive lobbying firms — and they connect in Congress. Representatives and Senators like Lott keep expanding federal government in order to get more resources to aggrandize themselves and wield more power. Lobbyists exist to deliver favors as a means to get a share of the spoils.

Why shouldn’t Lott cash out? He helped build the system that now delivers an unconscionable number of pork-barrel projects to lobbysist and their constituencies. Ronald Reagan once vetoed a bill because it had over 160 earmarks in it. Appropriations bills now routinely include over 2,000 such line items of pork — each. Congress just overrode a Bush veto on a water-projects bill that increased in spending over 50% in conference committee, mostly by adding pork when the leadership of both chambers insisted that they would not use conference reports for that purpose.

So, as is often the case, the crime is what’s legal.

Of course, there are also illegal crimes. Lott’s brother-in-law, “Richard F. Scruggs, a prominent trial lawyer who has been fighting insurance companies over payments for damage from Hurricane Katrina, was indicted yesterday by federal authorities on charges of offering a bribe of $50,000 to a Mississippi state judge in a dispute over fees with another lawyer,” the NYT reports. Mustang Bobby wonders if there isn’t some connection here.

So far no one has said that Mr. Lott is in any way connected to his brother-in-law and nephew’s doings. But then again, Mr. Scruggs represented Mr. Lott in a lawsuit against State Farm for unpaid damages from Hurricane Katrina, so if there’s an investigation of Mr. Scruggs, it might skate a little too close to Mr. Lott for comfort.

Then again, it might not. It’s not unreasonable to raise the question, though.

Story via Memeorandum. Photo credit: Reuters via Albion Monitor.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Brent Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He's a widower and father of two young daughers. He earned his PhD from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Dave Schuler says:

    His resignation certainly supports the idea that there are only two reasons to seek elective office: rent-seeking and power. When you’re in the minority your power is reduced and so is your ability to exact subsidies. For the minority there’s more money in lobbying.


  2. legion says:

    In addition to Dave’s quite-correct comments, I don’t recall seeing anything from Lott himself admitting to going into lobbying at all. The only things I’ve seen come from the man himself are that “it’s time to move on”, coupled with lots of rumors of better-or-worse credibility.

    So assuming the conventional wisdom is true, it’s not simply that he’s going into lobbying, it’s that he’s being rather dishonest about it – possibly criminally so if he’s working on legislation that impacts the people he (presumably) already knows he’s going to work for.


  3. Christopher says:

    James & legion: this is America. We are a free people. Anyone can lobby their elected representatives, or contribute money to their re-election campaigns. If you have a problem with that, move to China or N. Korea.

    You don’t like that there is so much corruption? Then the people that put them there can vote them out. The fact that they don’t, oh well. We get the government we deserve.


  4. James Joyner says:

    this is America. We are a free people. Anyone can lobby their elected representatives, or contribute money to their re-election campaigns.

    It’s more complicated than that. The fundamental problem is that Congress allocates hundreds of billions of dollars in a giant omnibus bill that’s essentially immune to presidential vote. The incentive system rewards sending massive amounts of pork to each District. It also rewards those who are well organized and give large sums to the parties.

    The fact that people don’t vote out their own congressman for bringing home their share of the pork is hardly surprising.

    Further, it’s beside the point. Getting elected doesn’t render people immune from criticism during their term of office.


  5. Anderson says:

    The only angle I can come up with on the timing of the Scruggs indictment is that it certainly makes it more difficult for Mike Moore (Scruggs’s collaborator on the tobacco suits & settlement) to run for Lott’s seat.


  6. C.Wagener says:

    There are two things that can be done to reduce lobbying to almost zero. Unfortunately those two things have a near zero chance of happening.

    First roll back the country to pre 1937, where courts actually cared about limits on the federal government. Second, have an incredibly simplified tax system.


  7. Jim Hines says:

    Re: “it’s more complicated than that” – is it really? If we are dissatisfied with our representatives (which I think most of us are) then let’s work HARD to send folks we have confidence in. The system is nothing more than the folks who sustain it. A few ideas:

    1. Put all House and Senate members on the same social security system as the rest of us.
    2. Put all House and Senate members out in the same health care market we all live in (this from a self employed person).
    3. Put in a line item veto
    4. Put in term limits…moving us back toward a common man (read “common sense”) approach to government…

    …and I think we’d have a new day.

    It need not be complicated. Get involved…have some constructive ideas and work to get them implemented.


  8. floyd says:

    Maybe he has planned to quit since before this last election, but also wanted to secure the seat for a Republican?


  9. anjin-san says:

    President before country…

    Party before country…

    now Pocketbook before country…

    Does this surprise anyone?


  10. Anderson says:

    What do you mean “now,” Anjin-san?