First You Subsidize Them, Then You Work For Them


In the Washington Examiner today Tim Carney uses former Byron Dorgan staffer Elizabeth Gore as an example of the revolving door between the power brokers in Washington DC and the companies the funnel taxpayer subsidies to.

Byron Dorgan, when he was a U.S. senator, directed taxpayer money to clean-coal research. Elizabeth Gore, Dorgan’s chief of staff at the time, registered last week as a lobbyist for the clean-coal industry.

This is a standard way to make it in Washington: subsidize an industry with taxpayer money, and then cash out to take that industry’s money as a lobbyist or consultant.

Dorgan was chairman of the Appropriations Committee’s energy subcommittee late last decade. In that role, he championed funding the Illinois-based “FutureGen” program — a massive demonstration project in “clean coal” technologies, such as capturing and storing the emissions of coal burning, or making coal burn more cleanly.

In 2009, Dorgan announced a separate $3.66 million in federal funding for “clean coal research and development” at the Energy and Environmental Research Center at the University of North Dakota.

In the fall of 2009, Dorgan published a study on clean coal, calling for $110 billion to $450 billion in government support for clean-coal over 25 years. Dorgan’s report suggested “Annual Appropriations…; Investment Tax Credits; Production Tax Credits/CO2 Sequestration Credits…; Direct Cash Payments; Federal Loan Guarantees,” and a “Federal Financing Bank” to subsidize clean coal.

As Dorgan fought to save FutureGen, won the $3.66 million earmark and developed the study advocating hundreds of billions in subsidies, Gore was his chief of staff. In September 2010, in Dorgan’s last few months in the Senate, Gore joined the lobbying firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck.

Last week, Brownstein Hyatt filed a lobbying registration on behalf of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, which had long lobbied for all of the positions Dorgan advanced. Gore is one of the lobbyists on the account, according to the filing.

Later in the piece Carney points out that there’s not necessarily anything nefarious about this sort of relationship. Perhaps Gore and Dorgan really do believe that clean coal is what’s best for the country and, as big-government, thus believe that subsidies for clean coal are good for America.

But there is definitely something unseemly about politicos first sending taxpayer dollars to companies like this, and then seeing those dollars flow back into their own pockets when they get hired.

This is why government subsidies are inherently evil. Even if you could argue that they’re well-intended, and pure in motive, they set the stage for the very sort of quid pro quo that is at the heart of most political corruption.