Outside editorial: Cool off, Mr. Lott

Posted: Friday, November 30, 2007

Mississippi Republican Sen. Trent Lott says that his sudden decision to retire, just a year after winning re-election to a new term, was unrelated to new ethics rules that will take effect Jan. 1. The rules would require Mr. Lott, if he waited until January to follow what is now a familiar career path and become a lobbyist, to hold off for two years instead of one before buttonholing his former colleagues.

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"I just felt like I needed to do something with my limited time in life," Mr. Lott said Monday, explaining his decision. "We've had this great experience for these 35 years, but we do think that there is time left for us to maybe do something else."

Most people who are at the stage of contemplating their limited time in life don't imagine spending it as Washington lobbyists, but, then again, most people aren't in the position of soon-to-be-former lawmakers, contemplating raking in multiples of their congressional salaries. Once it was a relative rarity, with something of an unpleasant odor, for lawmakers to spin through the revolving door into K Street lobbying firms; now it is commonplace. A 2005 report by Public Citizen found that 43 percent of 198 members of Congress leaving office since 1998 registered as lobbyists.

If, as Mr. Lott insists, the new ethics rules did not speed up his departure plans, there is an easy way for him to demonstrate that: Comply with the two-year cooling-off period.

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