WASHINGTON -- Connie Mack took a big gamble running for U.S. Senate last year and lost, surrendering a safe House seat.
But unlike many unemployed Floridians, Mack, 45, didn’t need to worry. He landed at Liberty Partners Group, a Washington lobbying shop where his father, the former senator of the same name, is a partner.
A steady number of former Florida lawmakers are finding jobs in the lucrative influence business, adding to nearly 340 members of Congress who have breezed through the revolving door in the past 15 years.
“They are literally cashing in on their Rolodex,” said Craig Holman, a lobbyist for the watchdog Public Citizen.
Since 1998, when the numbers became easier to track, 43 percent of former representatives and senators have gone into lobbying, Holman said, exposing the cozy relationships Washington runs on and the high cost of joining the club. “It distorts the legislative process in favor of those who can pay for that Rolodex.”
Rep. Bill Posey, R-Rockledge, said his constituents are noticing. “They say, ‘You guys are just cleaning up on being part of this process.’ ”
Posey has filed legislation that would impose a five-year ban on lobbying by ex-lawmakers and make them give up their federal pensions when they become lobbyists.
“Sometimes in Washington people forget that working in Congress, or in a federal agency, is first and foremost about serving your fellow Americans — that’s where the focus needs to be,” he said when the bill was introduced.
The measure, however, has gotten almost no attention while the lobbying ranks continue to swell with former lawmakers.
More than 20 lawmakers who were in Congress in 2012 now work in the lobbying field, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The new class of lobbyists includes Mack’s soon-to-be ex-wife, Mary Bono Mack of California, who lost a reelection bid to the House.
It counts former Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Ocala, who works for APCO Worldwide, a major lobbying operation. The firm said Stearns advises clients, which it would not name, on “policy matters concerning the U.S. federal government, trans-Atlantic trade and cyber security” and is not a registered lobbyist.
Stearns couldn’t register anyway; former members are barred for a year from contacting former colleagues. Ex-senators must wait two years. But there is nothing stopping them from guiding clients while having others do the legwork on Capitol Hill.
Some former members never bother to register, taking advantage of lax regulations that critics say make it hard for the public to see who is influencing decisions.
Two of four Florida Democratic House members ousted in the 2010 GOP wave, Allen Boyd of Monticello and Ron Klein of Boca Raton, are now registered lobbyists. So is former Rep. Jim Davis of Tampa, who gave up his seat to run for governor in 2006. Democrat Karen Thurman of Dunnellon, who was defeated in 2000, works Capitol Hill on behalf of healthcare concerns and State Farm Insurance. Until recently, former Rep. Carrie Meek, D-Miami, was working for numerous clients in Washington.
Former Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum has returned to lobbying, a field he entered after leaving Congress in 2001, though he now concentrates on state issues for the big Washington law firm Dentons.