Here's a YouTube of a 33-second Barack Obama campaign commercial titled "Billy" that aired in the 2008 campaign about Billy Tauzin, a congressman who went to work for the pharmaceutical industry as a lobbyist:
Here's a Bloomberg News article from today headlined, "Tauzin's $11.6 Million Made Him Highest-Paid Health-Law Lobbyist." It begins: "Billy Tauzin, the former congressman turned pharmaceutical industry lobbyist, was paid $11.6 million in 2010, the year he brokered a deal with President Barack Obama that helped pass the health-care overhaul."
Taken together, the two are a pretty devastating combination.
The 2008 Obama ad was brought to my attention last night by a guest at a Manhattan event at which I was one of the speakers. The questioner's point was that the drug companies had had too much influence in writing the health care law. I expressed some skepticism in response. I asked whether the questioner thought that the drug companies should somehow be prevented from participating in making laws that affect their businesses, noted that drug companies aren't particularly politically popular, and pointed out that the way democracy works is that all sorts of groups with interest in legislation push and pull under the watchful eyes of the press and the public. I know people who have been helped by expensive life-saving drugs and I want to preserve incentives to invest in the research and development of new ones. If my profitable business were under attack by politicians threatening to impose price controls that would curb innovation, I might be tempted to pay a former congressman $11.6 million to thwart it, too.
But even taking all these things into account, the level of compensation for the former congressman is dismaying. Maybe he was paid for his powers as a policy advocate rather than for his personal connections, which should be encouraging for those of us who are policy advocates. I guess what I find dismaying about it is that there's so much at stake for these pharmaceutical companies in these laws that it's rational for them to pay lobbyists these sums. It seems like a textbook case for the application of law professor Glenn Reynolds' proposal for an anti-revolving door tax of "A 50% surtax on anything earned within five years after leaving the federal government, above whatever the federal salary was. Leave a $150K job at the White House, take a $1M job with Goldman, Sachs, pay a $425K surtax." Also, "salaries paid to former government officials aren't deductible for corporations." Alas, Mr. Tauzin left Congress in early January 2005, so the $11.6 million paid in 2010 would be outside the five-year window in which the Reynolds Anti-Revolving Door Tax would apply.