Trent Lott and the Politics of Cashing In
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.