Former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., is leaving the Senate because he and his wife decided “it’s time to do something else.” But, as always happens in Washington, other shoes soon began dropping after Lott’s announcement recently. Nobody who has been paying attention in the nation’s capital in recent years was fooled by the smiley faces at Lott’s news conferences on Capitol Hill or in Pascagoula. He will leave the Senate one day before new ethics rules double from one year to two the mandatory waiting period before he can lobby former colleagues. Sure enough, within hours of his announcement, Lott conceded that, well, yes, “there are some opportunities out there,” including a possible partnership with former Louisiana Sen. John Breaux, a Democrat and longtime Lott buddy. Breaux’s departure from Patton Boggs this week to open a lobbying firm with his son thus seems hardly coincidental, especially because Lott’s son is also in the influence-peddling business.
Lott leaves after 35 years of public service a much wealthier man than when he started. In 2005, he had a net worth of between $1.4 million and $2 million, and he will be eligible for millions more in his tax-funded pension. But all that will be dwarfed by what he will surely be paid as K Street’s pork-barrel lobbyist par excellence. This is why Lott’s departure epitomizes much of what is wrong with Washington. He is cashing out in 2007 to cash in come 2008, following the path of nearly half of the lawmakers who have retired from Congress in recent years. Lott demonstrated a natural aptitude for his new career when he proposed his $700 million “Railroad to Nowhere” earmark in April 2006. Lott’s earmark — then the most expensive single earmark ever proposed — would have replaced a Mississippi coastal rail line with a new highway. CSX had just spent $300 million repairing hurricane damage to the line, but Lott’s earmark required tearing it up and rebuilding it a short distance to the north.
When the Railroad to Nowhere earmark drew opposition from President Bush, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and the bipartisan Internet-based Porkbusters coalition, Lott testily remarked: “I’ll just say this about the so-called porkbusters. I’m getting damn tired of hearing from them. They have been nothing but trouble ever since Katrina.” Hell evidently has no fury like a porker scorned. In the months since, Lott has frequently led opposition to efforts by Coburn, Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., and others to get rid of earmarks entirely. If Congress is trulyserious about cleaning itself up, it will ban lobbying by former members, beginning with everybody currently serving in the 110th Congress. Calling it the Lott Ban would be the perfect symbol of the Mississippian’s days in Washington.