Sinema and Manchin Know What They Are Doing
Newsweek|November 26, 2021
Business-friendly Democrats don’t need to worry about reelection when they can have lucrative second careers as lobbyists
ANDREW PEREZ and WALKER BRAGMAN

IT’S A CORE PRINCIPLE of economics that people do what they are incentivized to do. That may be why Democratic Senators Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia haven’t hesitated to oppose popular progressive policies in their own party’s spending bill: They can bet on getting a payoff in the end.

During the fight over Democrats’ social spending reconciliation bill, Sinema, for example, has played a prominent—albeit silent—role in watering down the party’s plan to allow Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices. She’s also helped gut Democrats’ plan to expand Medicare benefits, nixed tax hikes on the wealthy and corporations and pushed to make the overall bill smaller. While Sinema isn’t up for reelection until 2024, she is polling terribly and already facing the threat of a well-financed primary challenge.

While Manchin has a personal financial interest in protecting the fossil fuel industry, he’s also worked diligently to deny new Medicare dental benefits that seniors in his state desperately need. Manchin has been on a fundraising tear this year, despite stating recently that he hasn’t decided whether he’ll run for reelection in 2024.

To understand what’s in it for conservative Democratic senators who play the party’s villain role, look at those who came before them: Many of those who do big business’ bidding and then either fail to win reelection or retire quickly end up scoring lucrative careers on K Street. It’s the ultimate win-win situation.

All of the former Democratic senators who publicly opposed a public health insurance option during the Obama administration, for example, ended up joining the infl uence industry. They became lobbyists or corporate consultants, or found work at corporate-funded think tanks, according to a review by The Daily Poster, a reader-supported investigative journalism organization, of publicly available records.

Today, with Democrats in control of Washington, corporate America has been relying on some of these former Democratic senators-turned-influence peddlers to help limit President Joe Biden’s “Build Back Better” agenda bill and make sure lawmakers don’t pass anything that could threaten anyone’s profits.

It’s easy to imagine Sinema and Manchin joining their ranks. In fact, statistically speaking, it would be more surprising if they didn’t.

Shadow Lobbying

MOST LAWMAKERS TAKE A SPIN through Washington’s proverbial “revolving door” when they leave office and quickly start cashing in on their connections. In May 2019, the watchdog group Public Citizen reported that nearly 60 percent of “recently retired or defeated U.S. lawmakers now working outside politics have landed jobs influencing federal policy.”

Federal ethics rules require former senators to undergo a two-year “cooling-off ” period before lobbying their old colleagues, but there are easy ways to evade post-employment restrictions and earn a quick buck serving corporate interests.

After leaving the government, senators often first take jobs as strategic advisors or partners at corporate lobbying firms and help advise clients and devise the firms’ influence strategies—without making any direct contacts that would require them to register as lobbyists. This is known as the “shadow lobbying” loophole.

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