United States Senate candidate Robert Blaha is trying some campaign jiu jitsu on one of Democratic incumbent Michael Bennet’s signature issues: Banning members of Congress from becoming lobbyists.
In a new video, the wealthy Colorado Springs Republican businessman calls for a 47-year ban on members of Congress, senior staffers, and key government officials from lobbying after they leave the public sector. The ad, which was released exclusively on the conservative news website Breitbart, doesn’t say it, but banning members of Congress has been a marquee issue for Bennet during his time in Washington.
Current law allows members of Congress to become lobbyists after waiting two years. Since he campaigned on a lifetime lobbying ban for members of Congress in 2010, Bennet has unsuccessfully tried multiple times to enact legislation to implement it.
In an interview with The Colorado Independent, Blaha said he’s trying to go further than Bennet— much further, and attacking the systemic nature of the problem by keeping many more people off future K-Street payrolls.
“We’re talking the whole permanent political class,” Blaha said. He’s talking about federal employees in the Senior Executive Service, senior employees in government agencies, and other policymakers. There’s “an enormous number that you’ve got to go after,” he said. “They are the ones that are writing policy, they are the ones that are making decisions.”
Democrats are accusing Blaha of aping Bennet’s proposal and trying to get away with it.
“In the ad, Robert Blaha doesn’t mention that permanently banning members of Congress from ever becoming lobbyists has been a signature cause for Michael Bennet for years, and instead is trying to copy Bennet’s proposal in an attempt to get a boost ahead of their 13-candidate June primary,” says the Colorado Democratic Party’s spokesman, Andrew Zucker.
Democrat Bennet’s legislation would enact a lifetime lobbying ban for retired members of congress or those who lost re-election, as well as make congressional staffers wait six years before lobbying current members of Congress. Current rules say they only have to wait one.
In a phone interview, Blaha dismissed Bennet’s work on the issue as window dressing, saying his own plan more deeply addresses the fundamental problems of influence peddling and adds harsher penalties for those who violate revolving door laws.
Blaha is running as a non-politician-outsider against about a dozen other Republicans for the nomination, and is doing so by gathering enough signatures to put him directly onto the June ballot.
He has so far stood out in the crowded primary with his humorous video ads. First it was video of rectal penetration and exploding toilets to illustrate why Coloradans need fresh leadership in Washington. Also, bobble-head dolls.
In his latest spot — Blaha wouldn’t say whether his campaign would put it on TV — it’s more bobble-head dolls, but with the new, pointed message on lobbying. He says former congressmen, staff members or key government officials caught lobbying before a 47-year cool-off period would go to prison.
“We’re talking about hard jail time here,” Blaha told The Independent. “We’re talking about putting people behind jails. In maximum security. Having them do hard time if they violate it. Not, you know, you pay a $5,000 fine, you get your hand slapped.”
Here’s the ad:
The Blaha spot might not be the clearest attempt to blunt one of Bennet’s signature proposals in his time as a U.S. Senator — Blaha doesn’t mention Bennet’s stance on post-congressional lobbying in the ad — and it’s likely the average voter doesn’t know Bennet’s stance on the issue either.
But in 2010, Bennet ran a TV campaign ad in which he said,”I’d ban members of Congress from ever becoming lobbyists.”
Here’s that spot:
“Michael has introduced the only Senate legislation to permanently ban members of Congress from becoming lobbyists,” said Bennet campaign spokeswoman Mairead Lynn. “And he’s going to continue to fight to pass it because he believes serving in Congress is a privilege and shouldn’t be a gateway for members to leave office and then get rich working for special interests.”
According to a study by the nonpartisan money-tracking Center for Responsive Politics, in 2014 more than half of retired members of Congress that year who had jobs were working in the lobbying industry.
Asked why Blaha put the number of years a politician must wait to become a lobbyist at 47, he jokingly replied: “I thought 50 was too extreme.”