If we want to diminish the power of corporate lobbyists in Congress, one of the best but most overlooked ways to do so would be to give congressional staffers a raise.
Over the weekend, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted that her office was going to ensure a living wage for all her staffers by paying no one less than $52,000, which constitutes a living wage in Washington, D.C., for two adults, with one working. Part of making that a reality in Ocasio-Cortez’s office means capping her staff salaries at $80,000. Staff salaries are not fixed: in 2018, each office had an average of $1.36 million to spend on staff salaries and official office expenses — the actual number will vary based on factors like the cost of renting an office in the member of Congress’s district. While $1.36 million may sound like a lot, with multiple roles to fill in D.C. and in the district, it’s spent quickly. In addition to in-district office space, members need staff who can draft legislation to enact a member of Congress’s policy proposals; staff dedicated to all the various policy issues a member of Congress must vote on; constituent services staff to help people who live in the member’s district; a scheduler to handle the flood of meeting requests and help the member manage the demands on their time; communications staff; and more. As Ocasio-Cortez noted, some of these staffers helping to run the country make around $30,000 in a district where the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment goes for over $2,000 a month.
Low staff salaries and limited staff budgets don’t just mean that we aren’t investing in the people who help ensure we have a well-functioning government — they also empower corporate lobbyists. The revolving door is the most familiar problem: Someone working for a deep-pocketed trade association (the sort of association that represents industries like banking or telecom, and spends time crafting proposed legislation, compiling research and lobbying Congress) can make