Usually when we think of a revolving door from public service to private lobbying, we envision a former legislator packing up their office only to walk across the aisle to chat with their former colleagues. In the federal government, we often see appointed officials do the same thing. For instance, Michael Powell, former FCC Chairman, went on to work for the National Cable & Telecommunications Association. Now we’re seeing something eerily similar about to play out in Utah, as Tara Thue, a project manager for the Governor’s Office of Economic Development Utah Broadband Project, leaves to take an unspecified position with AT&T.
What makes this particularly concerning is that Ms. Thue, though a project manager for the state, isn’t a particularly high-ranking official. AT&T, however, seems to see enough value in having someone on their payroll whose job it was to collect data on wireless and wired broadband. I don’t mean to impugn Ms. Thue’s motives at all, but it does raise larger questions about the express lane government employees have towards private industry.
This highlights a continuing problem at all levels of government. Legislators and regulators are routinely recruited not just for their knowledge of the inner workings of the system but also their extensive connections to people in a position to push policies favorable to their new employer. It’s particularly bad in the money-laden entertainment and communications industries who have built fortunes on top of favorable laws, tax benefits, and regulations. US Senator Chris Dodd is now in charge of the MPAA, and even a reputed idealist like US Representative Rick Boucher couldn’t resist joining a lobbying organization after an electoral defeat. The siren call of lobbying jobs, lucrative to employer and employee alike, is too strong.
As long as legislative and regulatory bodies have something worth buying and selling, someone will find a way to buy and sell it. More often than not, it will be the very people we used to trust to run those organizations.
- Jesse Harris
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