On Thursday, Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) announced that he would be leaving his second Senate term in January 2013 to accept a position as president of the Heritage Foundation, one of the nation’s leading conservative think tanks. DeMint is founder of the Senate Tea Party Caucus and a leading voice among the Republican Party’s right wing movement.
Why does a junior senator in the Senate minority party believe that passing through the revolving door, the constant movement of politicians into the private sector as lobbyists and consultants and vice versa, is a better idea than staying in Congress? In an interview after his resignation, DeMint stated that he believed he could do “more on the outside than on the inside,” and wanted to be more effective in taking conservative solutions to American voters. As it turns out, DeMint may actually be far more powerful as head of the most prominent conservative research organization than he ever was as a senator.
In a recent study conducted by Thomas LaPira and H.F. Thomas III, the researchers found that there were a few appealing reasons for politicians to build a second career as lobbyists. For one, working in the private sector to achieve consensus-building and practical solutions is a promising alternative when faced with the stalemates and lack of productivity in the current congressional climate. DeMint is a famous face in Congress but lacks any real legislative authority among the traditional Republican Party structure. He has often railed against the establishment, and according to LaPira and Thomas, he is a prime example of a politician who views the structure and rules of Congress as an impediment to the application and execution of the “right” decisions. A Politico article described DeMint as resorting to PR tactics and outside channels to build a profile within the Senate, and his move to the Heritage Foundation will allow him greater flexibility when dealing with legislators and the conservative agenda.
A second reason the move works so well for DeMint is that it would give him an opportunity to exercise issue familiarity in a different venue. LaPira and Thomas point out that “lobbyists place a higher value on the knowledge gained through government employment than their personal professional contacts.” DeMint will leave office with seven years of national governing experience under his belt, and as leader of the Heritage Foundation, he will successfully be able to funnel his understanding and inside knowledge of Senate and the Congress into a different channel. The revolving door gives politicians such as DeMint a place to hang their hat when they’re done with electoral politics.
Tangent to his senate experience, DeMint will come into the lobbying world a leader, a title he never officially held in the Senate. LaPira and Thomas’ study contends that “those who have worked in government are more likely to be considered elite lobbyists.” As a senator who remained largely on the fringe of the traditional power structure, DeMint will gain real power as president of the Heritage Foundation.
Another 2010 study on revolving door lobbyists points out two additional, largely self-evident reasons why politicians like DeMint would be attracted to the other side: the money and the connections. As discussed in a recent Politico piece on the rebirth of the Heritage Foundation, reporter Dylan Byers writes that DeMint will have an $80 million budget to work with at the Heritage Foundation and will probably earn an annual salary of $1 million, nearly 10 times his current Senate salary. He’ll also leave Capitol Hill with a plethora of friendships and personal connections that he can leverage to potentially influence policy and legislative proposals from the outside.
Senator DeMint said that he’s leaving the Senate for the private sector because he believes he can do more good from the outside than the inside. While that may be true, the senator will also get a lot more power on the outside than he ever had on the inside.