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Project on Government Oversight




Barney Says: Don't Let the Revolving Door Hit You on the Way Out

April 1, 2010 


Earlier this week, Bloomberg reported that Peter Roberson signed on as a lobbyist for IntercontinentalExchange, Inc. (ICE), which owns one of the world's largest credit default swap clearinghouses. Before joining ICE, however, Roberson was a professional staff member for the House Financial Services Committee who played a key role in drafting the Committee's legislation on derivatives regulation, including provisions to move some products onto clearing and trading platforms such as the one run by his new employer.

Today, Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-MA) issued a statement against Roberson for his decision to go lobby for a company directly impacted by the Committee's legislation, and announced that he has permanently banned his staff from communicating with Roberson on any financial regulatory issues:

"When Mr. Roberson was hired, it never occurred to me that he would jump so quickly from the Committee staff to an industry that was being affected by the Committee's legislation. When he called me to tell me that he was in conversations with them, I told him that I was disappointed and that I insisted that he take no further action as a member of the Committee staff....

Stories about this correctly noted that there is a one year ban on his interaction with members of the Committee staff, but I do not think that is adequate. I am therefore instructing the staff of the Financial Services Committee to have no contact whatsoever with Mr. Roberson on any matters involving financial regulation for as long as I am in charge of that Committee staff."

Rep. Frank's permanent ban on communications between Roberson and the Committee would go well beyond the typical one-year cooling off period for departing committee staff, and may even surpass President Obama's ban on former executive branch appointees lobbying executive branch officials for the remainder of his administration. But as Ryan Grim points out, there's nothing preventing Roberson from lobbying the Senate, which is currently working on its version of the financial regulatory overhaul legislation.

Rep. Frank said that Roberson was a rare example. The revolving door between Congress and the financial services industry has been spinning out of control. A recent analysis by The Huffington Post found that nearly half of the 126 staffers who have left the Financial Services Committee since 2000 ended up registering as lobbyists, mostly for the financial services industry. An analysis by Public Citizen using data from the Center for Responsive Politics found that at least 70 former Members of Congress lobbied on behalf of the financial services industry in 2009. And it's not even unprecedented for Rep. Frank: another former Frank aide, Michael Paese, recently became the chief lobbyist for Goldman Sachs.

Roberson himself is no stranger to K Street: before joining the Committee, he worked as a lobbyist for the Bond Market Association, which later merged with the Securities Industry Association to form the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, which the Center for Responsive Politics described as "one of the industry's most vocal trade groups." One Democratic staffer who worked with Roberson on the Committee told The Huffington Post that "it was always obvious he was playing for the other side." Might this be part of the reason why the House's derivatives legislation was filled with loopholes benefiting the big securities brokerage firms?

Still, Roberson's decision to go lobby for ICE is a particularly egregious abuse of the public's trust, and POGO applauds Rep. Frank for trying to mitigate the harmful effects of the revolving door on the legislative process. POGO hopes that other Members will follow suit.

Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that champions good government reforms. POGO's investigations into corruption, misconduct, and conflicts of interest achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government.

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