“Washington Has Become the Roach Motel”

Kevin Rutledge on January 22, 2016
“People go in but they never come out, they never leave,” said Mike Huckabee at a private round table discussion on big money in politics while referring to a lifetime ban on the revolving door between Congress and lobbyists.

During a round table with Governor Mike Huckabee hosted by Iowa Pays the Price, a non-profit dedicated to countering the overwhelming influence of big money in politics, I was invited to ask the governor about lobbyists and what he’d do to serve people, not wealthy donors or special interests. I was surprised to hear him answer extensively about a lifetime ban in the revolving door between Congress and lobbyists. Watch the exchange in the video above, my question begins at 3:36.

I was the first to start with questions, so I introduced myself and the issues AFSC’s Governing Under the Influence project raise with presidential candidates. I reminded Huckabee about questions I asked him last year on immigrant detention centers run by private prisons and explained my passion in the criminal justice system. I used to work with kids whom the system set up for failure when they returned home.

I said, “Many candidates this cycle have addressed these issues of lobbyists and big campaign donors influencing elected officials in Washington D.C. Many people agree it’s a huge problem. What would you do specifically to be sure our government serves the people and not wealthy donors or special interests?”

Huckabee said, “What I think has contributed most to the influence of big money is that the tax code is essentially a playground for donors and politicians.” He continued talking about a fair tax eliminating corporations need to lobby for tax breaks. He added, “35,000 lobbyists are registered in Washington, and they’re not there for me or for you.”

I asked, even with a tax code, how he would address the millions of dollars spent on lobbyists.

“A couple things we ought to do is make sure that no member of Congress could ever lobby,” Huckabee said. “It would be a lifetime ban, along with that, term limits…Most people are for term limits until they get elected and then they become against it because they want to protect their own career. But what I saw was that people who stay a long time are more easily influenced by the relationships that they built over time.

“People who get there for their first few years, they don’t know a lobbyist and they don’t trust them. Most of them ran against the lobbyist, they ran against the system and it’s only when they get there that they decide they like the system real well. So the longer a person stays, the more likely they are to be influenced by the big money of lobbyist and more easily I think captured by it.”

“Thank you for addressing the issue of the revolving door,” I said. “Not a lot of people know about that.”

“It’s huge,” he responded. “I mean think about it. This is something I’ve often said, Washington has become the roach motel. People go in but they never come out, they never leave. Think about it, a guy leaves and he retires from Congress, does he go back home and run a hardware store which he did before? Not on your life. He cashes in but becomes a lobbyist and brings down seven figures a year, and I just think there ought to be a lifetime ban.”

After a half hour of answering questions about campaign finance and everybody started to leave, I asked Huckabee if I could give him our report on immigrant detention and private prisons. He gladly accepted it and explained how, when he was governor of Arkansas, they had a private prison and found it cost more money and wasn’t effective.

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Kevin Rutledge

Kevin Rutledge AFSC Governing Under the Influence Presidential Campaign Project

Kevin Rutledge is the Grassroots Education Coordinator with AFSC’s Presidential Campaign Project in Iowa.  Kevin has deep family roots in Quaker activism for peace and social justice.  A graduate from Iowa State University in Sociology and Criminal Justice, his previous work includes: United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) organizer, Public Citizen online organizer to overturn Citizens United, U.S. Senator Tom Harkin, and a youth residential treatment facility.  Kevin hopes to one day return to Brazil and live by the beach.

“What the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.” – Napoleon Hill .