The Regulatory Revolving Door
The revolving door between government and the agribusiness giant Monsanto has spun again. Former Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-Arkansas) has been hired to lobby on behalf of Monsanto. Lincoln had served as the chair of the Senate’s Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry (becoming the first woman to hold that post) until she lost re-election in 2010.
Since leaving the Senate, Lincoln has been active as a policy advisor for a DC-based law firm. In 2011 she announced she was leaving the firm to establish her own lobbying group, the Lincoln Policy Group, which earned about $13.7 million in revenue in its first year. Its clients include Wal-Mart, the credit bureau Experian, the Natural Gas Association of America, and more recently, Comcast, the oil company Valero, and Monsanto.
The argument in favor of such cross-pollination between industry and regulators it that there is a limited pool of expertise; that those inside the industry best understand the questions raised by the new technologies. Indeed, Monsanto has a webpage dedicated to defending the practice and accusing those who raise questions about the revolving door of trying to muddy the waters around the safety of the technology and food itself.
But this is a great example of how the perception is as important as whatever reality might underlie it. If the public perceives the regulatory system to be compromised by the revolving door between industry and government, then the public is more likely to mistrust regulatory decisions, whatever they might be.