The rotating door between government and corporations

Remember Michael Powell, Colin Powell's son who - definitely thru his own qualifications and not at all because of nepotism - became chairman of the FCC and did his utmost to end any sort of regulations on the rapidly consolidating media industry? (Is there even more than 1 company left now?)

Well, again exclusively thru his own qualifications and not at all because his political connections will enable him to manipulate the government, he's won a job as senior adviser to Providence Equity Partners, an equity firm whose main job is making deals and buying stakes in media corporations.

This illustrates one of the key processes in American elite formation and reproduction: the rotating door between government agencies that regulate corporations and high-paying consultancies with those same corporations. Someone holding a high position in a regulatory agency or working on regulations in Congress, as soon as he (occasionally she) leaves government, can expect to receive sweet job offers from all the companies he was just overseeing. Unless, of course, he did a good job regulating them, in which case the sweet jobs will not be forthcoming.

Having become "senior consultant" or whatever, he then goes on to use his connections in the bureaucracy or Congress to convince the people who succeeded him (themselves looking forward to sweet corporate jobs), of how closely the interests of his company line up with the public interest. Frequently the corporate consultant cycles right back into a regulatory position a few years down the road. This is a longstanding pattern, certainly not an innovation of the Bush administration.

Might this practice have some influence on the quality of the regulating process?

Adding insult to injury, this important and nearly universal phenomenon goes almost unremarked upon in the media. The Michael Powell story should count as one of the more egregious and high-profile examples of its kind given his crass pursuit of the media companies' interests during his tenure as regulator and his rapid move to working for the same companies. Yet it received only capsule treatment on page 14 in the Chicago Tribune, The New York Times didn't report it at all, and the Reuters article is literally a press release from Providence Equity Partners.

But surely TV news, freed by Michael Powell from the suffocating effect of all those rules and now able to properly do its job as watchdog for our great democracy, will come to our rescue.

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