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.

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