Wynn can go lobby -- for $500,000

The Baltimore Sun

On behalf of the people of Maryland, I am sending Rep. Albert R. Wynn a bill for $500,000 -- his share of the cost of a special election that must be staged on account of Wynn quitting his congressional seat seven months early to take a fat-juicy job with a Washington lobbyist.

It's a reasonable request.

Wynn is in such a rush to take his new job -- and his next employer is so eager to get him -- that certainly they can split the cost of a special election to fill Wynn's seat. What's half-a-mil to a Washington lobbying firm that counts Bristol-Myers Squibb and Time Warner among its clients?

In case you're not sufficiently cynical about politics, pull up a chair and I'll relate the Al Wynn Story.

Al was a popular pol, having served his mostly Democratic constituency for several years in the state legislature in Annapolis before winning election to Congress in 1992.

There are nearly 700,000 men, women and children in Maryland's 4th congressional district, covering Prince George's and Montgomery counties. Of those who voted in the 2002, 2004 and 2006 general elections, nearly 80 percent voted for Al.

Al was feelin' the love, for a long time.

His 2006 Democratic primary victory might have been a narrow one -- over a liberal activist named Donna Edwards -- but Al held onto his seat.

Until this year.

This year, in February's Super Patapsco primary, the Democratic voters of Maryland made Barack Obama their choice for president. Obama's theme being "change," the voters of the 4th District decided one was needed.

So a majority of them voted for Edwards this time.

She had accused Al of being out of step with his constituents and beholden to oil and banking interests. Edwards got some help from the Service Employees International Union and benefited from an anti-incumbent sentiment.

And what can you say?

Good for her. She was patient and determined, worked hard and put together a campaign to topple a congressman who, by the look of things, was primed to move on anyway.

One gets the impression that Al was either so bummed by the February primary loss -- or ticked off by it -- that he decided, "Hey, who needs this?"

Al has a law degree from Georgetown. A law firm of an old classmate beckoned. The firm is Dickstein Shapiro. It's an LLP that lobbies Congress, with five former members of Congress on staff. Al's going to be a partner. He's going to be lobbyist. He's going to make gobs of money, shoot his cuffs when he walks into restaurants and order shrimp cocktail whenever he likes.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

"I have known Congressman Wynn since our days in law school together, and I am delighted that he is joining Dickstein Shapiro," says Michael Nannes, Dickstein Shapiro's chairman, on the LLP's Web site. "His knowledge of the law, the government, and the public policy process is an invaluable asset to our clients and our practice."

Of that we can be sure.

Wynn holds a seat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. "With one of the broadest legislative jurisdictions at the Capitol," Congressional Quarterly reported the other day, "the committee deals with plenty of issues -- including health care, pollution and telecommunications -- of vital interest to Dickstein Shapiro, Wynn's next employer. The firm has been particularly effective on behalf of electric utilities."

Five of Dickstein Shapiro's clients have political action committees that contributed to Wynn's re-election campaigns, according to CQ. They are Pepco Holdings, Bristol-Meyers Squibb, Time Warner, the American Society of Interventional Pain Physicians ("Doc, it hurts when I do this!") and Teco Energy, Inc.

So Al might be lobbying on behalf of companies that gave him campaign contributions. There's a certain political poetry to all that.

But wait, hold on.

A congressman's term of office doesn't end when he loses a primary.

It's supposed to end just before the next Congress convenes the following January. Al's successor, Edwards, still has to win a general election, in November, and she won't take her oath until early 2009.

So why are we hearing about Al's next job now?

Because he's taking it now -- or, at least, some time in June.

He's not sitting around, doing that lame duck thing, even though the people of the 4th Congressional District voted him to a full two-year term in 2006.

He's buggin' out early, and the whole thing smells greedy.

Federal law prohibits Al and other former House members from directly lobbying their old buddies in Congress for a year. By not serving out his full term, Wynn starts the clock on that prohibition six months earlier.

But, worst of all, he's just not keeping a commitment, and his rush to score the big bucks at Dickstein Shapiro is costing the state and his constituent counties money. It forces a special election, and the cost is going to be about $1 million.

Al doesn't want to stay? Let him go. There's nothing wrong with taking a new path when you hit your mid-50s.

But Al shouldn't make his constituents pay $1 million to have representation in Congress because he chose to skip senior year and enter the lobbyist draft early.

He should split the cost of the election with the state and the counties. His constituents get a new representative, and Al blunts criticism that he's greedy or narcissistic.

It's a win-Wynn.


Dan Rodricks hosts "Midday" Mondays through Thursdays, noon to 2 p.m., on 88.1 WYPR-FM.

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