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Cruz and AOC Said They Would Propose a Lobbying Ban. So What Happened?

in Sludge
on January 14, 2021

The Twitter accounts affiliated with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) have recently been engaged in a dispute over the senator’s responsibility for the Capitol Hill insurrection and whether it was appropriate for Joe Biden to liken the senator to Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels. The back and forth, in which Ocasio-Cortez said Cruz should be expelled from Congress, has been widely covered in the press and has earned the lawmakers a lot of attention for their respective positions. 

The whole episode is reminiscent of another time the two accounts, among the most popular of those affiliated with any congressional office, engaged in a high-profile discussion on Twitter. In May 2019, the two agreed to partner up on legislation that would ban members of Congress for life from becoming lobbyists once they leave public office.

“If you are a member of Congress + leave, you shouldn’t be allowed to turn right around & leverage your service for a lobbyist check,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote on Twitter. “I don’t think it should be legal at ALL to become a corporate lobbyist if you’ve served in Congress.”

Cruz responded with a quote-tweet and said, “I AGREE with @AOC.  Indeed, I have long called for a LIFETIME BAN on former Members of Congress becoming lobbyists. The Swamp would hate it, but perhaps a chance for some bipartisan cooperation?”

Ocasio-Cortez replied to Cruz, “If you’re serious about a clean bill, then I’m down,” to which Cruz quickly responded, “You’re on.”

The two were praised by good government groups for the exchange, and news of the apparent bipartisan breakthrough was covered by NPR, Vanity Fair, Fox News, The Guardian, USA Today, Rolling Stone, The New York Post, Vox, CNN, and many more outlets. Ocasio-Cortez and Cruz are among the most vilified members of Congress by their respective political opponents, but their Twitter exchange countered the impression of them as unreasonable extremists and helped associate them with a popular belief among most Americans that the D.C. influence peddling circuit is too corrupt. 

But more than a year and a half later, neither Cruz or Ocasio-Cortez has introduced any lobbying ban legislation, Sludge found by reviewing information on Sludge reached out multiple times to both offices for any information about why the bill was never introduced, but neither office responded. 

In June 2019, Ocasio-Cortez said in response to a question from TYT about if the initiative was legit that “our legislative teams are meeting” and that she was “encouraged” that Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) had tweeted to say he would join. In the interview, Ocasio-Cortez explained that discussions were revolving around whether there was a way to prohibit former members of Congress from going into government affairs without formally registering as lobbyists, or if the bill would only focus on formal lobbying. 

It’s possible that the discussions between Cruz and Ocasio-Cortez’s offices broke down over that point, but the two don’t actually need each other in order to introduce lobbying ban legislation. It’s nice to have bipartisan support for your bills out of the gate, but any member of Congress can file any bill they like, even if they can’t get a single other member of Congress to join as a co-sponsor. It’s very routine to do so, and in fact both Cruz and Ocasio-Cortez have introduced multiple bills without a single other member of their chamber co-sponsoring them and with no related version in the other chamber.

The anti-corruption group RepresentUs, which calls for enhanced revolving-door restrictions in its reform platform, ran a petition campaign that thanked the senator and representative for their leadership on working across the aisle and said “We’ve got your back, and we won’t let you off the hook until this gets done.” The group told Sludge that it met with Cruz’s staff and delivered petition signatures but was unable to schedule a meeting with Ocasio-Cortez.

“We are disappointed Sen. Cruz and Rep. Ocasio-Cortez haven’t taken action, but it’s not too late,” Josh Silver, co-founder and CEO of RepresentUs told Sludge. “We have to end political bribery and that means closing the revolving door that allows former members of Congress to influence their former colleagues.”

Public Citizen, a good government group, analyzed the revolving-door lobbying field following the 2018 midterms and found that “59% of former members of Congress from the 2017-2019 term who now have private-sector jobs (26 of 44) are working for lobbying firms, consulting firms, trade groups or business groups that influence federal government activities.” One of those revolving-door figures is Joe Crowley, the powerful Democrat Ocasio-Cortez defeated in her primary, who joined corporate lobbying firm Squire Patton Boggs as a senior policy advisor shortly after leaving Congress.

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