A U.S. Senate candidate called for a permanent ban on lobbying by former members of Congress Wednesday.
The proposal was one component of a multi-part plan to reform Congress offered by state lawmaker Larry Rhoden, a Republican.
Currently, members of Congress can become lobbyists who are paid to promote ideas to their fellow colleagues once they leave office. House members have to wait one year after leaving office before becoming a lobbyist, while senators have to wait two years.
Around half of all senators and nearly as many representatives become lobbyists after retiring from Congress, reporter Mark Leibovich wrote in a recent book. That’s up from just 3 percent of retiring members of Congress becoming lobbyists in 1974.
Rhoden said this reform, and others, would help “create an environment where our nation’s best interests are always our first priority.”
Several of Rhoden’s fellow candidates disagreed with Rhoden’s call for a permanent lobbying ban for ex-members of Congress.
Mike Rounds, the Republican frontrunner, said he didn’t think the permanent ban would have a big positive impact — but said it would affect members of Congress’ “ability to earn a living after they leave Congress.” Depriving former members of Congress of a lucrative post-Congressional career, Rounds said, could make members less likely to leave office.
“I think we can debate the timeframe, on how long you want to restrict them from earning a living (lobbying),” Rounds said. “But in some cases, you don’t want to make it more difficult for them to actually leave office… you’re kind of working against yourself, working against the goal of having turnover.”
Rhoden has endorsed term limits that would limit people to three terms in the House and two in the Senate, and reiterated his call for such an amendment Wednesday. Such a change, however, would require an amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which requires approval from two-thirds of both houses of Congress and three-fourths of the states.
Stace Nelson, another GOP candidate for Senate, said Rhoden’s proposal for a lobbying ban “is missing what the problem is.”
“It is not the lobbyists who carry the special interest monies to our elected officials that is the problem, but the legalized bribery and the mass amount of monies given to Congress and candidates who these special interests want to control,” Nelson said in an email.
Several former members of Congress from South Dakota have become lobbyists after leaving office. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin became a lobbyist after her 2010 defeat, as did Tom Daschle after his 2004 loss. John Thune lobbied in between losing the 2002 U.S. Senate race and winning a Senate seat in 2004, and Larry Pressler formed a legal and lobbying firm after his 1996 loss, though Pressler said he did not lobby himself.
Rhoden’s lobbying proposal also would ban the “immediate family” of members of Congress from being registered lobbyists while their relative was in office.
In the Senate, some close relatives are currently forbidden to lobby any member of Congress — though the rule doesn’t cover certain categories, such as sons-in-law. In the House, a lobbyist isn’t allowed to lobby a representative they’re married to. But a representative can be lobbied by a child or parent.
A review by the Washington Post last year found 56 relatives of lawmakers have been paid to lobby Congress since the 2007 reform bill passed.
Rounds, who was skeptical of the ban on ex-members of Congress lobbying, said the spousal ban seemed like a reasonable proposal.
The other two Republican U.S. Senate candidates, Annette Bosworth and Jason Ravnsborg, did not respond to requests to comment Wednesday afternoon.
Rhoden’s reform plan also included requiring all members of Congress to put their investments in blind trusts, a provision denying members of Congress their pay unless they pass a balanced budget, and giving the president a line-item veto — the ability for a president to strike part of a bill without vetoing the entire legislation. The U.S. Supreme Court held that the line-item veto passed in the 1990s was unconstitutional, meaning a constitutional amendment might be needed to create one.
The Republican U.S. Senate primary is June 3, 2014.
(This post has been updated from an earlier version.)