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Ask Civics 101: What Can Politicians Do After They Leave Office?

Today's Ask Civics 101 question: What can outgoing politicians do? Read on, or listen to this short podcast episode for the answer.

Do you have a question for the Civics 101 team? Click here to submit it.

When you’ve swept up the balloons, paid the bar tab, thanked your supporters, and called your opponent to concede, what happens next? Dan Cassino, professor of Political Science at Farleigh Dickinson University, tells us about the three things politicians can do once they leave office.

#1 - Make Money

The annual salary for those in the Senate or the House of Representatives is $174,000. But the real money comes later. After a one-year “cooling off” period, former members of Congress can work as a lobbyist, a consultant whose job is to influence legislation on behalf of organizations or individuals. After the 2014 midterm elections, one in four outgoing legislators opted to stay in DC and become lobbyists.

However, the amount of money a former Congressperson can make as a lobbyist is directly tied to what committees they were on when they were in office. And this makes sense, as a politician who worked on a committee has been deeply involved with relative legislation for some time.

They’ve made friendships, they know how the lawmaking process works, and they have credibility. Certain committees, like Ways and Means, Defense, Appropriations, or Banking offer such a potentially lucrative future that the parties expect those who serve on those committees to make generous donations to the party while in office.

A former committee chair can make tens of millions of dollars. This may seem like a lot of money to pay one person, but the financial impact of favorable legislation can earn a large corporation billions of dollars in the long run.

#2 - Hit the Circuit

Many former members of Congress write books about their time in office and go on book tours across the country. Others register with speaker bureaus and hit the lecture circuit, speaking at universities and organizations. Particularly influential politicians can charge anywhere from $20k-100k per speech.

#3 - Take a Break

As Dan pointed out to us, it costs a lot of money to run for office. As a result, many of those in Congress are quite wealthy or have lots of wealthy friends. And when they leave office, they do what many 68-year-olds do, they simply retire! They spend time with their families, write memoirs, and take a break after years of the DC hustle and bustle.

We hope you’re enjoying our episodes in the wake of the election. Support our continuing work on the show if you’re able, click here to make a donation.


Nick has been the co-host and Education Outreach Producer for Civics 101 since 2018, where he creates episodes and works with teachers across the country to design lesson plans to pair with the show.
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