Current Speaker of the House front-runner Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) has reportedly decided to appoint a current federal lobbyist to be his chief of staff, likely the most powerful staff position in the U.S. House of Representatives. A ThinkProgress review of lobbying disclosure records reveals that his choice, former Senate chief of staff J. David Hoppe, has represented an array of controversial entities, as recently as last month.
Stephen Spaulding, senior policy counsel at Common Cause, told ThinkProgress that while the appointment would be not terribly surprising, it is “exhibit A for how broken the system is.”
Eight years after Congress passed the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act — with the support of Ryan — to attempt to reign in the excessive influence of special interest lobbyists and the revolving door between government officials and the industries they regulate. But while the reforms included a cooling-off period for those going from Congress to the lobbying sector — as Hoppe did twice after stints as chief of staff to-then Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott and then-Senate Republican Whip Jon Kyl — it did not include any restrictions on Congressional offices hiring people directly from their lobbying positions.
In his most recent lobbying stint, Hoppe represented some very powerful interests.
This year, he was part of a team receiving $180,000 from the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities, the trade association for the for-profit higher-education industry. He lobbied Congress on issues related to “gainful employment,” working against the Obama administration’s efforts to crack down on companies that operate colleges and universities which do not offer students much chance of becoming gainfully employed after graduation but do help them accumulate massive student loan debt.
Hoppe and his firm also represented the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling, receiving $180,000 for their efforts since July. The coalition, which includes a number of socially conservative groups, was launched by billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson after his company aborted its own efforts to profit from online gambling. Adelson, whose Las Vegas Sands company owns The Venetian and The Palazzo in Las Vegas, now claims his “moral standard compels” him to oppose legal Internet gambling.
The list of Hoppe’s other 2015 clients includes lobbying for the National Association of Broadcasters ($180,000 to his firm over the past two quarters) in support of the Local Radio Freedom Act, which would ensure that local radio stations do not have to pay the same royalties to musicians as Internet and satellite radio services do; Mars Incorportated ($180,000 since July) against legislation requiring that meat product labels include country of origin; and al-Mawarid Bank ($10,000 over the past quarter), a Lebanese bank run by a former Lebanon Minister of State from a pro-Assad party. Earlier clients included the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Cayman Islands financial services industry, and the National Venture Capital Association.
“It’s another example of the pay-to-play culture in Washington and the cozy relationship between K Street and Capitol Hill,” Spaulding observed. “Ultimately, you always have to ask how is the public interest served here. When you have a revolving door this well-greased, it raises the appearance that corporate interests on K Street can capture regulatory agencies and congressional offices… Private interests have access and influences other lack because they don’t have those kind of ins.”