I always find the revolving door to be an intriguing subject of inquiry. The combination of big money in influencing policy, as well as the transient nature of most political jobs, combines to ensure that members of Congress and their staffs put in their time building relationships on Capitol Hill, only to jump over to K Street to lobby those ex-colleagues. You have to do this a few times, to maintain the relationships with the new cast of characters and prove your worth to the paymasters of the lobbyists. And so that’s what we see.

The Hill takes a look at this today.

Some former lobbyists who left the influence industry last year to work as aides on Capitol Hill are already back on K Street. Others are coming to lobby shops for the first time, some from the offices of freshman members elected in 2010 [...]

Among the staffers who have returned to their lobbying careers after a stint on Capitol Hill are Jim Barnette, Sarah Beatty and Anne Steckel.

Barnette served as the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s general counsel. He worked for Steptoe & Johnson before moving to the committee. Barnette has since rejoined the firm and registered to lobby for big-name clients like Facebook and Fluor Corp.

Beatty lobbied for the American College of Cardiology prior to serving Rep. Pat Meehan (R-Pa.) as chief of staff. Now she is registered to lobby for Wal-Mart.

And Steckel left Growth Energy to serve Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) as chief of staff. She now works as a lobbyist for the National Biodiesel Board.

One lobbyist quoted in the article says quite explicitly that the goal of flipping back to Capitol Hill after some time on K Street is to “refresh contacts.” You get to know the new players in Congress, and after a time, you have a blueprint from which to lobby them. So you head back out for a payday.

This is basically legalized bribery. You have lobbyists working off relationships gained from close contacts with Congressional figures. Maybe they aren’t passing money around, but they are passing what amounts to a “legislative subsidy,” in the form of working knowledge. And at the end of the day, the favors are made to friends. And campaign contributions always lurk in the background.

We have laws against senior staff lobbying at their former employer; in the Senate it’s a total ban, while in the House senior staffers cannot lobby the specific office in which they worked. But that only holds for a year, and any Congressional aides who make under 75% of a member of Congress’ salary are exempt from the restrictions. So the anti-revolving door rules are hardly rules at all.

It’s really illuminating to get all these lobbyists and trade group heads on the records talking so casually about corruption. I urge you to read it.