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January 22nd, 2013
11:26 PM ET

Retiring congresswoman leads 2013 lobbying revolving door

Rep. Jo Ann Emerson of Missouri, who won easy re-election to her 10th term in Congress in November, is expected to officially leave office soon to take over a job as head of one of Washington’s largest and most influential trade associations.

According to public records, she is one of five outgoing members of the House of Representatives—four Republicans and one Democrat—to take lobbying jobs as the new Congress begins its work.

A public interest group in Washington says Emerson’s case is the personification of the revolving door in the nation’s capital. And a close look at her career helps explain why.

She is a Washington native who in 1975 married a lobbyist named Bill Emerson. He went on to become a Republican congressman from Missouri’s 8th Congressional District, which encompasses much of the southeastern part of the state, with Cape Girardeau as its largest population center. During Bill Emerson’s term in office, his wife became a lobbyist, first for the restaurant industry and later as a spokeswoman for the American Insurance Industry Association.

When her husband died of cancer in 1996, Jo Ann Emerson took his seat in Congress. During her nine terms in office, the largest single contributor to her re-election campaigns was her future employer, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the umbrella trade and lobbying organization that represents more than 900 small electric cooperatives around the nation.

On November 6, Emerson defeated her Democratic opponent in Missouri with 72% of the vote, a huge margin of victory. Yet, nine days after her election, she announced her resignation in order to become CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. The current CEO of the group is a former congressman, Glenn English of Oklahoma. According to public records, his salary is approximately $1.6 million a year.

Emerson has two daughters, Katherine Emerson and Victoria Emerson Barnes. Both work as lobbyists based in Washington, Katherine for Monsanto and Victoria for General Motors.

CNN contacted Emerson’s chief of staff to arrange an on-camera interview and we offered to travel to Missouri. Through her office, she declined, saying she would rather conduct an interview in Washington, citing the need for hair styling and makeup. We agreed and set a time for Monday, January 14, at 5 p.m., either at her offices in the Rayburn House Office Building or at the CNN Washington Bureau. But a few days later, she changed course and declined, giving no reason.

CNN was present in the Rayburn House Office Building when Emerson returned to work. But despite two attempts by CNN’s Drew Griffin to get any comment at all, she brushed by our cameras without saying a single word.

Here’s a transcript of the last encounter:

DREW GRIFFIN: Congresswoman, can you tell us why you are leaving Congress? Can you tell us why after you won an election pretty well, why would you leave Congress to take basically a lobbying job? Congresswoman?

At that point, Emerson disappears behind a closed elevator door.

Kathy Kiely of the Sunlight Foundation, a public interest advocacy group in Washington, said the ongoing revolving door of lobbyists and politicians erodes faith in a political system that seems to be driven by special interest access and money.

“What people do see is that there is a network of individuals who don’t have their interests at heart, they have special interests at heart,” she told CNN. “And when people have the impression that those special interests are dominating Washington and the way things work here, it reduces people’s faith in their government. And it probably should.”

A special election to replace Emerson will likely be held in April, according to the Missouri Secretary of State’s office. A spokesman for that office told CNN that the cost of that election will be approximately $951,000.

soundoff (45 Responses)
  1. T. J. Rueles

    Jo-Ann served her congressional district very well, as did her husband. This is a rural economy and both were pro farm in their representation. She did not always vote as everyone desired, but she voted in a manner that supported the people she represented as close to the keeping of our Constitution as she could. I am pleased she has been able to further her income by this change and she will continue to support all of rural America in her new position.

    January 25, 2013 at 5:15 pm |
  2. Syd Mandelbaum

    Congresswoman Emerson has been on our advisory board (Rock and Wrap It Up!) for 13 years. In 2007, she along with Congressman Waxman Chief of Staff Phil Schiliro, drove the Federal Food Donation Act through Congress in 32 days, fast bill every to go thrrough and was unanimously passed. Don't shoot first, ask questions to people like us who have worked with her to reduce poverty across the United States.
    Great advocate for the poor and hungry...

    January 23, 2013 at 7:08 pm |
  3. mike

    This is not a surprise to anyone,is it? Congressmen/women have been screwing their constituants for years.
    Make her pay for the new election.

    January 23, 2013 at 5:59 pm |
  4. Dan

    The system is so screwed by people's greed and desire for power that it just seems like what is the point of caring...I would like a lobby of decent citizens with an actual, working conscious and sense of responsibility.

    January 23, 2013 at 5:46 pm |
  5. Gerard

    Just fascism and plutocracy slowly at work.

    January 23, 2013 at 5:32 pm |
  6. earlbowden

    I think she should be financially responsible for all public costs involved to have another Congressional election. Or if some flunky is going to be given her position – like she inherited it – make her pay for her last election.

    January 23, 2013 at 5:24 pm |
  7. Cindy

    I wonder how I just knew she would be a Republican.

    January 23, 2013 at 5:13 pm |
  8. Jameserizer

    Bend over, taxpayers, here it comes again. Almost certainly Emerson knew she would be resigning her seat in congress before the election. If it can be proved, one would think justice would demand that Emerson pay the cost of the special election. Oh wait, Justice and American Politics are mutually exclusive terms.

    January 23, 2013 at 5:00 pm |
  9. Patrick Lewis

    I wonder if she will be charged the one million it will cost to re-run the election? Maybe she can charge it to the group she now works for. Disgusting. If there were any karma in the world, the guy she beat would win the seat, he clearly wanted it more than she did!

    January 23, 2013 at 4:55 pm |
  10. George

    of course the answer is to stop political donations & super pac or pac money altogether. stop politicians from being indebted to donors/lobbyists. Let the government provide a set amount of campaign funds. We will all be much better off.

    January 23, 2013 at 4:43 pm |
  11. Peter Wolfe

    Of course Ms. Emerson has offered to reimburse the state of Missouri for the cost of the special election. Right?

    January 23, 2013 at 4:43 pm |
  12. gary d

    She should reimburse her State.

    January 23, 2013 at 4:41 pm |
  13. Eddie

    I truly believe we would be much better off if all the politicians were imprisoned and we allow either Organized Crime or Miss Snyder's second grade manage this country.
    Special interest's ,Special interest's,Special interest's,Special interest's,Special interest's ,Special interest's are destroying the country.

    January 23, 2013 at 4:39 pm |
  14. Dave The Butcher

    Massive conflict of interest. For reference, look up Meredith Attwell (Ex FCC Commissioner). It should be illegal.

    January 23, 2013 at 4:20 pm |
  15. Tony

    Maybe every congress member should have to sign a "non-compete agreement" before taking office that would require a 5 year period before becoming a lobbyist

    January 23, 2013 at 4:15 pm |
    • Bo Leibowitz

      Nail on the head!

      January 24, 2013 at 6:55 pm |
  16. Retired Mike

    One more reason ALL lobbying should be banned as in other western nations. Lobbying is a destructive force on our government in delivering virtuous laws and breeds coruption with political donations beyond belief with no disclosure.

    January 23, 2013 at 4:10 pm |
  17. Josh

    And this perfect example shows why representatives should be barred from working as Lobbyists for a certain amount of years after leaving public office.

    She is a disgrace.

    January 23, 2013 at 3:54 pm |
  18. Matt

    Good riddance. She is all about the will of the corporations and not of the people whom she was elected by to represent here in Missouri.

    January 23, 2013 at 3:34 pm |
  19. Jim

    Republican, won easy in the south, ha, way to go.

    January 23, 2013 at 3:26 pm |
  20. Jerry

    They should bill her for all costs incurred to hold the special election. Also, in actively running for the seat and winning the election she was party to an implied contract with the constituency that elected her. She should be sued for breach of that contract, breach of the public trust, and nonfeasance or misfeasance. She should also be barred from all congressional offices for the duration of her unserved term.

    January 23, 2013 at 3:25 pm |
  21. cory adams

    I guess the pay and perks of office just aren't enough for her.

    January 23, 2013 at 2:55 pm |
  22. Dann

    Any way she can be held accountable for the cost of a new election?

    January 23, 2013 at 2:52 pm |
  23. tony

    A typical anti-democracy lobbyist. Willing to throw away the American peoples hard-earned tax dollars of the huge cost of an election to grab a slice of the plutocracy pie just for herself.

    January 23, 2013 at 2:47 pm |
  24. Colin in Florida

    This is why we need to pass a law that says that members of congress (at least, and possibly those appointed by the president) cannot join lobbying organizations for at least X years after leaving an elected or appointed office. This woman trashed the people who elected her. They trusted her to go to DC and represent them. Days after a landslide victory, she decides to quit, and now leaves it up to the governor to appoint her replacement, a person no one elected. She left for the money, but she should be run out of town on a rail. Talk about greedy!

    January 23, 2013 at 2:44 pm |
  25. John H

    Quitting 9 days after elected with no acceptable health or family obligation to meet? Sounds like she owes the people of Missouri $951,000 for the election she will cause. Perhaps the Republican party that promoted her or her campaign fund could be used to pay off the debt. It certainly seems reasonable to me.

    January 23, 2013 at 2:37 pm |
  26. Michael

    Nonsense! She should be billed for the cost to have another election to replace her. Shame on her! Typical Republican!

    January 23, 2013 at 2:23 pm |
  27. Thomas

    She should be required to reimburse the state, for expense wasted on her re-election – and perhaps investigated for possible crimes, relating to fraud.

    January 23, 2013 at 2:19 pm |
  28. Mike

    I assume the congresswoman will be footing the re-election costs.

    January 23, 2013 at 2:16 pm |
  29. john/kc

    Another republican selling out years ago to corporations. Even her children work as lobbyists. It is really surprising that 72% of the people in her district voted for someone who is obviously more interested in representing big business than in representing the citizens that elected her. Much is to be said about republicans and big business, and it isn't good.

    January 23, 2013 at 2:12 pm |
  30. William

    Representative democracy at its finest.

    January 23, 2013 at 2:01 pm |
  31. Zeke

    I think they should make her pay for the special election.

    January 23, 2013 at 1:36 pm |
  32. c s

    Does any of this surprise anyone? We have the best government that money can buy thanks to the US Supreme Court giving corporations the same First Amendment rights as citizens. You know citizens, those warm blooded creatures who were suppose to represented by our Representatives and Senators. Instead Congress represents the newly christened corporate citizens.

    January 23, 2013 at 1:35 pm |
  33. patsj

    She should have to pay for that special election. What a travesty!

    January 23, 2013 at 1:35 pm |
  34. Malcolm in St Louis

    another money chasing republican costing the State of Missouri valuable tax dollars. She could have not run again but chose to get another year on her congressional pension plan and leverage for her new job

    Now we may get a stripper scandal enmeshed replacement. A guy called Kinder. check him out, another upstanding republican politician.

    January 23, 2013 at 1:33 pm |
  35. Howard

    It's all about the bucks. Always the bucks. If only we could prohibit congresspersons from lobbying the House or Senate for a minimum of 5 years after they leave office, and 10 years for any organization that donated substantial sums to their campaigns.. Unfortunately, it would take an Act of Congress to make that happen, and that'll never happen.

    January 23, 2013 at 1:32 pm |
  36. levi

    The State should send her a bill for the re-election.

    January 23, 2013 at 1:32 pm |
  37. Tracy

    Congress-persons should be held responsible for the cost of special elections if they resign. That is just shameful.

    January 23, 2013 at 1:32 pm |
  38. MikeA

    What's wrong with Congress? There's your answer.

    January 23, 2013 at 1:29 pm |
  39. lance corporal

    4/5 are republican...... big surprise

    THIS is what is wrong

    January 23, 2013 at 1:25 pm |
  40. Claude Gothic

    They should take a million bucks out of her salary to cover the cost of the election, at the very least.

    January 23, 2013 at 1:19 pm |
  41. Cameron Spurgeon

    I thought that was against the law, probably didn;t pass that one to busy working on multiple abortion bills??

    January 23, 2013 at 1:17 pm |
  42. RC Roeder

    I love how some congress people line their pockets from special interest while smiling at the voters (trust me).

    January 23, 2013 at 1:14 pm |
  43. Matthew Collins

    CNN and its staff seriously needs to research more and learn what the NRECA is and what it does. Your remarks labeling them as a lobbying group is disingenuous and extremely naive. Ignorance is bliss.

    January 23, 2013 at 11:23 am |
  44. Bob Ross

    Just how selfish can you get? Her ploy to get "access" should backfire on her as both sides of the house should see this as a brazen slap in the face to public service. The only way to deal with this behavior is to make her "access" worthless by ignoring her lobbying efforts. This was clearly planned without any regard for the honor of the office or the welfare of the people she swore to serve

    January 23, 2013 at 9:33 am |