The House Appropriations Committee today approved a provision prohibiting high-ranking government officials, including members of Congress and ambassadors, from lobbying on behalf of certain foreign governments for 10 years after leaving office.
The amendment to the fiscal year 2013 Financial Services Appropriations bill was offered by Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) and approved on a voice vote. Wolf introduced similar stand-alone legislation in March.
In addition to members of Congress and Ambassadors, the restriction would apply to the president, vice president and other senior political appointees in the executive branch who require Senate confirmation, including retired generals and admirals. Senior intelligence officials, including the director of the National Clandestine Service and CIA station chiefs, also would be barred from representing certain foreign governments.
The restriction also applies to representing foreign entities owned or controlled by these same governments.
The amendment Wolf offered today narrows the countries barred from representation to any designated by the State Department as a "Country of Particular Concern" (CPC) for severe human rights violations and religious persecution. This designation was created in the International Religious Freedom Act, which Wolf authored in 1998.
Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan are currently on the State Department's CPC list.
Wolf pointed to the following examples as to why the ban is necessary:
BURMA: Several years ago, a former CIA station chief in Burma left government service and went to work for a D.C. firm that took on the Burmese junta as a client. The Boston Globe reported that this "former US intelligence officer worked on behalf of Burma as a $5,000-a-month lobbyist, trying to persuade American officials to adopt a more friendly stance toward the regime." The same year this station chief's firm was hired, the State Department human rights report detailed the Burmese government's abuses: "The regime's human rights record remained extremely poor In ethnic minority areas, security forces continued to commit extrajudicial killings and rape, forcibly relocated persons, used forced labor, and conscripted child soldiers."
CHINA: The House Intelligence Committee is currently investigating Chinese communications firms Huawei and ZTE. Politico reported June 18 that the leadership of the Intelligence Committee is "worried that China might be subsidizing the companies in an effort to make them an arm of cyberespionage, or worse, a vehicle for cyberattacks." Both companies have well-documented, deep ties to the Chinese government and the People's Liberation Army. The State Department also is investigating whether Huawei violated U.S. sanctions by selling equipment that could be used to monitor mobile phone users in Iran. Huawei has hired at least two former members of Congress.
SAUDI ARABIA: A 2006 San Francisco Chronicle piece headlined "Feeding at Saudis' trough: Former U.S. envoys lobby for kingdom" indicated that in 2003, one U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia left his post and " joined the long list of U.S. ambassadors and other former American officials working directly or indirectly for the Saudi royal family." Wolf noted that Saudi Arabia's radical Wahhabism is taught in some of the most extremist mosques and madrassas, including along the Pakistan/Afghanistan border, and that their official textbooks are filled with hateful messages about minority faiths, including Christians and Jews.
Wolf also pointed to a 2007 Harper's Magazine article that said: "Although there are distinct limits to what they can achieve, lobbyists are the crucial conduit through which pariah regimes advance their interests in Washington."
Wolf has long been concerned by the practice of foreign governments, especially those with expressly different geopolitical aims than the United States, retaining high-powered lobbyists to help provide access and influence they would not otherwise have. In 2007, he tried to offer a similar amendment to major lobbying reform legislation moving through Congress but the then Democrat-controlled House Rules Committee rejected it.
Wolf said serving in Congress or as a United States ambassador is a high honor, and people should not walk out of government one day and then trade on their service the next, especially for governments who do not share the same values as the United States.
Wolf emphasized that he did not question the integrity of the overwhelming majority of men and women who faithfully serve this country with honor, but said there needs to be a defined "cooling off" period.
"For those who hold such prominent positions in government service, we must set a high standard to avoid even the appearance of impropriety," Wolf said. "In the private sector, businesses use non-competitive covenants to protect proprietary information from disclosure and abuse by former employees. Information gleaned in government service is no less valuable."
Wolf said the bill would go a long way toward restoring public confidence in the institutions of government and changing the culture in Washington.
"When people believe that special interests, especially foreign interests, have undue influence in our system of government, trust in the very institutions of governance is eroded at our great peril," Wolf said.