Wednesday, April 19, 2006
Government service can lead to big bucks
My father used to watch political campaigns and say, "You should never trust a man who will spend millions of dollars to get a job that pays only a fraction of that."

The problem is, in Washington these days a lot of political offices are paying much, much more than taxpayers would ever know about.

Conventional wisdom says if you work a few years at a high enough level of the public sector, you can clean up in the private world. Press Secretary Scott McClellan earned about $160,000 a year in the White House, but political analysts say in the outside world he could pull in five or ten times as much.

How? Two words: Information and access.

There is a long line of folks -- industry leaders, lobbyists, consulting firms, professional associations -- who will pay big money for accurate knowledge of plans being considered at the highest levels of government and connections to the top government players. Recent insiders have both.

And there is money to be had beyond that too: Book deals, speaking fees, political punditry. Want Jimmy Carter's national security advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, to speak at your next convention? The fee listed by his agent is $25,000 to $40,000.

None of this is illegal. But many taxpayers I've talked to believe it is a sign of just how cozy government has become with big business, and they fear that in such a clubby world of "you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours," what's best for taxpayers may be sliding further and further down the list of priorities.

Realistic concern or sour grapes about the spoils of political war?
Posted By Tom Foreman, CNN Correspondent: 5:42 PM ET
  38 Comments
I hope I'm not bursting your bubble here but your father wasn't the only one to come to this realization. My mom has been saying something similar for as long as I can remember. It was as common as the "money doesn't grow on trees" and "why buy the cow if you get the milk for free" mantra. The problem is, we know the disease but someone needs to find a cure. Also, if we don't fix the climate change problem or stop picking fights with one country after another, we may not be around long enough for it to matter.
Posted By Anonymous Christina, Windber, PA : 6:15 PM ET
Heh - your father is too too wise, Tom. My dad always said anyone who wanted to BE President was de facto disqualified by the catch-22 that you have to be crazy to want to be President.
Posted By Anonymous Arachnae, Sterling VA : 6:18 PM ET
Hi Tom. This is a big realistic concern. If our public officials are more beholden to big business than they are to "we the people" tell me how it is that we can still call ourselves a democracy?
Posted By Anonymous Stacy, St. Louis, MO : 6:24 PM ET
i would not mind so much if they would be honest about it. Stop pretending they care about serving the people. At least they could kiss us before they ....
Posted By Anonymous Warren San Diego, Ca : 6:28 PM ET
Yep, Isnt it nice these guys can go from middle class , to super rich status. Only in America, all on the backs of real working people who cant even get a minimum wage increase.

Im proud these guys have achieved the American Dream. Just wished they were thoughtful and Kind!!!

Thanks for nothing!! Must be nice to be able to afford $7 a gallon gas.

Sad are We The People that allows such a government that operates under the Vital Few, Trival Many mentality.

Vote for poor candidates , not millionaires!!
Posted By Anonymous Mike, Zephyrhills, FL : 6:34 PM ET
Insiders get to make speeches, recently here in Tampa, all the people going to see several of these insiders created a traffic backup.

Corporate America sends their employees there, payed trips, they spend millions buying books, tapes etc... listening to advice that has little or credible ability to change your life unless you have a fair chance in todays job markets , etc... Not in America anymore.

Wonder what a college education is really going to do for our people!!

These insiders really are the legallized telemarketing guru's.

Have to admit , i wished i could make that kinda money!!

Then again Id feel guilty!!
Posted By Anonymous Mike, Zephyrhills, FL : 6:47 PM ET
This phenomenon is only the natural consequence of an overgrown government and the politics of class envy.

1) Thanks to taxes designed to milk the rich and big businesses, anyone with wealth or a high income MUST buy politicians in order to protect themselves. Lobbying for tax loopholes and giving political contributions become standard business practice. Simplify the tax code, and it'll remove the incentive for big businesses to purchase politicians.

2) And that goes for our big-spending government too. Every defense contractor in America spends big money trying to put politicians in their back pockets. (Look at Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham.) If we simply remove the power of our government to award lucrative contracts to specific businesses, then we again remove any incentive for such businesses to buy politicians.

Big Business isn't dumb--they go where the money is. And if we keep the money in our own personal pockets, we'll have them beholden directly to us, rather than to the politicians whom we currently pool our monies under. While we use votes to elect our political leaders, we use dollars to select our leading businesses. All we have to do is change the reward system and their behaviors will change in response.
Posted By Anonymous Dennis Chang, Seal Beach, CA : 7:50 PM ET
Hi Tom,
I think you hit the nail on the head..It's realistic concern and sour grapes..We've gone WAY overboard with the way big business leads us around by the nose..BUT..I certainly don't want to live in a country where wealth is looked upon as something evil..I'm not ready to think the American dream is a nightmare..But we do need reform..So I guess I've no answers, except to say, I'm realistically concerned that my PollyAnna moment of support for capitalism will sound bad..So I'll have a sour grapes minute, and say to big business, money doesn't make you a BIG WOW...Take Care
Posted By Anonymous Lorie Ann, Buellton, Calif. : 7:51 PM ET
Oh... is "what's best for the taxpayers" still ON the list of priorities? Hmmm
Posted By Anonymous Margo, Pisgah Forest, NC : 7:54 PM ET
Well, it is like everything else we do now - write a law and reform the problem - don't enforce the law - get caught - write another law - don't enforce it - and you get the point - Our Dear Congressmen could not let them have access? Yea Right! - I am so disappointed in Joe Public! but, I VOTE!
Posted By Anonymous Steve, Tyler, Texas : 8:10 PM ET
Wise words from your father. Unfortunately, those who have the most money usually win the election; society have always favored those who come from affluent families or become rich by earning their money the old-fashioned way. Until citizens demand more of the politicians, nothing will ever change. Also, it will help if people will register to vote. If you don't vote, you should not complain about anything a politician does that directly affects you.
Posted By Anonymous Angie, St.Louis, MO : 8:18 PM ET
I think we can all agree that we need intelligent, competent people in public service. Firstly, individual employment issues like this are beyond regulation, at least any regulation that would be consistent with any democratic or liberty-based ethic with any proximity to our founding documents and their intents. Secondly, and more germane, this is a good thing. It is good that there is some long-term incentive to public service. Scott McClellan, while he may not have been everyone's favorite person, served his government and the public for a very long time; 2 years and 9 months as Press Secretary preceeded by related public service in low-to-mid level positions in local government going back nearly 15 years. Public servants make a relatively meager wage. The $160,000 cited can only be applied during his time as Press Secretary, not the countless years prior to that. Now, personally, the idea of Scott McClennan anywhere near the seat of power frightens me, I dislike him and his ideas, however you, the taxpayer have no desire to pay commensurate wages to your public officials. Like nursing and teaching, nobody is going to do it unless there is an incentive beyond passion and love of country. Scott McClennan has worked for his country, risen to the top and now the time has come for the private sector to reward his service.
Posted By Anonymous Stephen, San Francisco, CA : 8:31 PM ET
I think they are realistic concerns - the fact that there is even a question there says that we as a mation have been lulled to accept just about anything.
Posted By Anonymous Kimberly, Royal Oak, MI : 8:45 PM ET
I've got to say it again. We have to make government irrelevant. Kind of like the queen in England, nice to have around, but not necessary for day to day operations. We need to take back our country. We need to vote, we need to stop being so complacent. The government wants us to sit back and watch government sponsored TV and stay out of their hair. Have you seen how defensive our pres and his cronies get when someone dares to question what he's doing and how he's doing it? Part of this problem is us. We need to take our country back and throw the bums out!
Posted By Anonymous kathy, corvallis or : 8:53 PM ET
Somehow we have to extend the time limits between public service and private sector if we expect to keep our politicians (somewhat) honest and prvent our legislators from representing corporate interests and return to representing those of us who still have to pay taxes. And while I'm at it, what was wrong with NO TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION!?!
Posted By Anonymous Melanie F., Costa Mesa, CA : 9:20 PM ET
I work in a government office. The reason the private sector pays significantly more is because you have to work significantly harder than in the public sector. 5PM is quitting time without regard to deadlines or promises to deliver in the public sector. In the private sector, one must meet deadlines if s/he hopes to be awarded another contract. The private sector may also pay more because job security is unpredictable. Honesty, integrity and work ethic have little bearing on one's employment status in the public sector, but they can elevate or terminate one's position in the private sector.
Posted By Anonymous Jennifer, Hillsborough, CA : 9:25 PM ET
Is'nt that the American way? Few people are in true public service and the world of politics isn't the only one that's tarnished. What ever happened to playing baseball for the love of the game - just ask any pro player - most of them couldn't tell you. How many high profile jounalist are still after the truth? Instead of a book deal or prime time show. No matter how we start out most of us get lost along the way. And believe it or not, most of us spend the rest of our lives trying to get back to where we started. The political life is no different and who are we to judge?
Posted By Anonymous Cheryl, Raleigh NC : 9:26 PM ET
It definately seems that the vast majority of Americans are opposed to our government (and government officials) being bought out by big business. It also seems that Americans are fed up with politicans climbing the ranks at the expense of the average, hardworking citizen.

With this being said, I think it is about time we start holding our government accountable for these issues, instead of allowing ourselves to be bitterly divided over much lesser issues like gay marriage and abortion. Politicians use these issues to divide Americans and divert our attention away from the absolute corruption that currently IS the American government. I completely understand that nearly everyone has a strong opinion about abortion and gay marriage, but how long will it take us to realize that while we have been slugging it out over these issues, politicans have been filling their pockets and selling the government off to big business? Our government is in serious need of reform, and this can truly only take place when these so-called "hot button" issues take a back seat to the major issues, namely our government's corporate ownership. If we keep voting based solely on whether boys should be allowed to kiss or if creationism should be taught in the classroom, we'll soon find out that these "problems" pale in comparison to the major issues our country will be facing in the near future.
Posted By Anonymous Justin, Johnstown PA : 9:27 PM ET
Maybe it's time that we Americans, consider an entire change in our Government system.

Maybe living in a "Republic" just doesn't semm to be working out - with all of the corruption and all.

The Republic system of "Majority Rules" seems unfair to the voices in the Minority.

Perhaps a "Parliamentary" style Government will better suit us in the future - just perhaps.
Posted By Anonymous Chris, San Diego, CA : 9:32 PM ET
It's an unfortunate truth that those who are most capable to run the country are the wealthy. They are the intellectual elite of this nation and they are the only ones who can be trusted with the power.
Posted By Anonymous Shawn, Philadelphia, PA : 10:54 PM ET
It is even better in Alaska - you don't even need to leave state service. Here, you can be a part-time legislator for say, 20 years making $28,000 per year. If you belong to the right party, you can then leave the legislature and get a job in the administration; say Commissioner of X Dept. making $130,000 per year. Do that for 3 years, and your retirment (full at 55 yrs.) is based on 23 years (or 50%) at $130,000. I.e. You get $65,000 per year for life starting at age 55 plus full medical. I wonder why the state retirement system is underfunded. Hmmmmmm....
Posted By Anonymous Frank, Juneau, Alaska : 10:55 PM ET
It isn't just these hig profile people who clean up after their so-called public service. Ex-military guys become millionaires once they retire by taking jobs with companies like SAIC and Lockheed Martin. These firms throw money at them because they believe these folks, men and women, have access and insider knowledge on projects and contracts. Living in Northern Virginia, you see this stuff all over the place. Personally, I appreciate the service that these people gave to our country, but it isn't right for them to cash in on their network of friends, a network that was funded entirely by taxpayers.
Posted By Anonymous Dave, Fairfax, VA : 11:36 PM ET
I'm sick and tired of hearing the term "public servants" applied to these jokers. Senators, Congressmen, Presidents, and Press Secretaries ultimately serve but one "master" - their own pocketbook.Teacher's, Policemen, Firefighters, Nurses - these are the real public servants. Let's call these silver-spooned opportunist's what they really are - self-serving, power-hungry scoundrels.
Posted By Anonymous Guille Baumange, Redlands, CA : 11:40 PM ET
In a perfect world the government would actually care about its people, but it is not a perfect world. Our governing officials just seem to be in a race with each other to see who gets richest the fastest. too bad they can't put some of that energy to helping the poor of our country.
Posted By Anonymous dp, colton, ca : 11:44 PM ET
"Information & access" obviously come at a high cost & they are clearly worth every penny to the greed driven government forces we are now experiencing & their ravenous supporters. The complexity of profit in corporate America & it's connection to government is undeniable to anyone who decides to pay attention even a little bit. These facts were best portrayed in the film, "the Corporation". Our insatiable consumption habits are fueling so much of this while simultaneously numbing & distracting us to continue to avoid taking any real action necessary for much needed change. Dissipation is rampant and we the people are failing at taking responsibility for the perpetuity of a healthy earth. We'd rather think, hmnnn..... wouldn't it be nice if a real life superhero(ine) could just show up & fix this mess?
Posted By Anonymous Ellen, Somers Point, NJ : 12:04 AM ET
Former politicos earning money as speakers is also known as:

Free Market Capitalism in action

The alternative to the above scenario is known as Socialism and Totalitarianism. To that end I urge bloggers to read: "The Road to Serfdom" by F.A. Hayek
Posted By Anonymous Tina Chicago, IL : 1:00 AM ET
The consumer should wake up. Most of these folks just like to talk and feel important. Given the over-supply of ex-government employees with their list of failures, creative vocabulary, and lack of substance you'd think the "fee" would go way down.
Posted By Anonymous linda, bella vista, ar : 1:59 AM ET
Sour grapes it is.
Posted By Anonymous Harrison, Richmond, Virginia : 6:42 AM ET
It's been decades since politicians really felt that "votes" by people who supported got them elected and it shows in their lack of concern for hardworking, taxpaying middle class citizens. Today, it is a statistics game. Figure out which districts you need to win to swing the election. Spend money to get those voters to the polls (even it means busing in the homeless and buying votes with cigarettes or sending folks out to nursing homes and elderly housing clusters to get absentee ballots filled out by people who will vote for whomever the nice young person tells them is good). The goal isn't to build a strong base of constituents aligned with your policies. Once you are elected, you start supplementing income with a host of special interest "friends" and your ultimate career path is an apres government service consulting gig influencing those still in office. Political appointees are the hangers on who feed on this system without the hassle of having to run for office and ultimately also get great perks. This system works because most of us in the middle class just assume nothing will change. A real problem is lack of good candidates who want to buck the system and actually focus on good policies. A lot of us now are simply voting for the lesser evil and even more aren't voting. Find candidates you can believe in and vote for them. Start demanding accountability. If the middle class stays content with being the silent majority we will only get more of the same.
Posted By Anonymous Sue M, El Paso, TX : 8:18 AM ET
Of course its an indication of the cozy little world we call American democracy. This is why nothing effective ever happens, why change takes so long, why we are so slow to respond to the rapidly changing world and definitely why we won't be able to compete globally in the next century. Oil interest, defense contractors, Halliburton all stifle true innovation or advanced ideas in order to protect their $$$$. And where do those dollars come from, the backs of amercian taxpayer. Its the same philosophy that got Michael Brown his job with FEMA, why Donald Rumsfeld won't be fired by Bush, even though he has made countless errors dating back 25 years. And even if he did get removed, he'd just go back to work for one of the various defense contractors and still be able to pass along his idiotic agenda. There are very few true leaders in our government and its no different that the payola scam in the Music industry, you have to pay to play. Their just using my money to do it.
Posted By Anonymous Yeaple, Beacon, NY : 8:46 AM ET
Tom, I liked your witty repartee, even when you started with WSFA TV in Montgomery,AL back in the mid 80's, I remember a Christmas poem you did back then even now, all the best to you.
Posted By Anonymous cd monroe, Wash, DC : 8:55 AM ET
That should be an absolute concern for the general public. When it's time to make the hard decisions that my not be popular with big business will politicians be thinking about their future rather than the publics interest. We need to explore banninig somone from seeking or accepting employment after public service at a certain level with companies that they may have had interaction with during their tenure in office for at least24-48 months. The focus is supposed to be on serving the people not setting yourself up for the next job!
Posted By Anonymous Derrick McLaughlin, Baltimore MD : 9:01 AM ET
The sad thing about this question - are politicians really looking out for the people they supposedly represent - is that this administration will never have to answer it. They'll just call you unpatriotic and unamerican and accuse you of aiding and abetting the terrorists and probably tap your telephone line (and maybe even torture you because they think you know something about bin Laden).

I have voted in every state and national election held since I turned 18 in 1999. Very few people I've voted for have won (although, speaking of sour grapes, I'm pretty sure the guy I voted for in 2000 did win and it wasn't George W. Bush). I will continue to vote anyway. I am proud to be an American, I pay my taxes every year, and although I won't wear a flag-printed T-shirt in public, I consider myself very patriotic. These things do not cancel out healthy political discourse; we should be allowed to ask our representatives questions and get honest answers.

Martha Gellhorn, one of the first female war reporters, wrote, "The Big Picture always exists. And I seem to have spent my life observing how desperately the Big Picture affects the little people who did not devise it and have no control over it." As a little person, I truly believe our administration does not at all care about any of us - not the soldiers in Iraq now, not the soldiers who have died there, and certainly not the voters. They care aout money and using it to buy more power. What's best for the taxpayers has not been a priority since Bush was elected and probably won't be until 2008.
Posted By Anonymous Sarah, Baltimore, MD : 9:27 AM ET
This is a realistic concern and not just the spoils of war. No one ever talks about what is best for the taxpayer; it seems that no one ever posts legislation that provides for America's fututre generations in terms of economic security.

The Federal government's chief responsibilities are to protect the people and provide for their economic security. Would anyone saw we are safer and more prosperous as a nation now than we were 6 years aga?
Posted By Anonymous Jarvis, Reston,VA : 9:36 AM ET
Depends on the position. A high power political appointee leaving and selling influence and access to his/her former administration is not a good scenario. However, in lower profile, but still vital, positions, many find that as they age, and their family grows, they cannot afford to stay in a government position. I could not afford children and student loans, so I left government service. My knowledge of how an agency functions and who really makes the decisions is an asset, not to skirt rules or shirk obligations, but to save time and money getting to the same result.
Posted By Anonymous Tony, Annapolis, Maryland : 11:01 AM ET
Someone mentioned this is the result of a FREE MARKET CAPITALISM and the alternative would be totalitarinism or socialism. If this is free market capitalism at its best, socialism just got a lot more attractive. If I could make a guess, I would say Tina in Chicago(the someone in question) makes a good amount of money and has sold herself to protecting her own life over what benefits all, and thus we have the trappings of FREE MARKET CAPITALISM. Once people make it, they circle the wagons and could care less about the community, not just the local community but the world community. Sleep tight Tina, and don't you worry about the millions of people starving due to FREE MARKET CAPITALISM
Posted By Anonymous Yeaple, Beacon, NY : 1:55 PM ET
Let's face it: it's hopeless. Greed, hunger, dishonesty, corruption, and power abuse are all sad parts of human nature. Human has--and always will be--a dirty, messy enterprise. Some days global thermonuclear warfare sounds like a pretty good option to moi!! As long as there are humans and humankind, we will have these problems.
Posted By Anonymous Kilgore, Madison, Wsconsin : 2:49 PM ET
Politics makes many of us sick! We're tired of it, and tired of hearing about it. We are disappointed and disillusioned with our government and our political leaders. Politicians are so out of touch with the citizens they represent. Things are so far out of hand and out of control, it's hard to think it can even be changed at this point. Sorry, but this is how sad, disappointed and negative many of us Americans feel about our current political system. We despise our politicians. So, I guess "sour grapes" for me.
Posted By Anonymous Shirley, Spokane, WA : 2:53 PM ET
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