As the historic drought continues, one sector has a leg up in the scuffle for what’s left of California’s water: Agribusiness.

Today on Follow the Money, we take a look at how Big Ag turned a congressman into a lobbyist overnight: 

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California is in the middle of one of the worst droughts in history.

Crops are failing. Fields are dying. Lakes and reservoirs are drying up. Governor Jerry Brown has imposed unprecedented water restrictions on California cities and towns.

The state has imposed mandatory water restrictions never seen before.

Farmers too are taking a huge hit—they’re set to lose $3 billion this year alone. But not everyone is suffering equally.

Big agriculture companies can fight for water in ways small farmers and communities just can’t compete with. How does it work?

If you’re a huge agribusiness company that can afford a lobbyists, you’ve got a big leg up in the fight over water.

Big agribusiness companies are very good at buying political influence. Case in point: Dennis Cardoza, a Congressman turned lobbyist overnight.

During his time in Congress, Cardoza served on the House Agricultural Committee, where he was supposed to be representing the people of California’s Central Valley. The only problem?

Dennis Cardoza’s political career was basically funded by big players in agribusiness.


Rep. Cardoza’s top industry donors, career. Source: Center for Responsive Politics

Yes, he was taking money—and tons of it—from the industry he was supposed to regulate. For his entire career. Legally.

But it gets worse.

Then, Cardoza went from Congressman to agribusiness lobbyist literally overnight.
“Dennis Cardoza was a congressman representing California’s Central Valley until midnight Wednesday. As of Thursday morning, he was working with a big-name D.C. lobbying firm.”— NPR News Host Melissa Block

As his time in government wound down, Cardoza seemed to lose interest in his job representing the People. He skipped a bunch of floor votes, racking up a terrible attendance record. Then, he took a trip to Europe paid for by taxpayer dollars—less than two weeks before resigning. Finally, he quit Congress early (“Nothing is going to happen for the rest of the year” he said) to take a job as a lobbyist for agribusiness at twice his prior salary.

Cardoza was even making arrangements for his new job with a lobbying firm while still in Congress—they had his office all ready for him when he arrived at their door the day after he announced he’d be skipping out on the American people.

“It may seem brazen that he has been negotiating his leap to K-Street while in Congress, but it’s not uncommon”— Sheila Krumholz, Center for Responsive Politics
Today, Cardoza is lobbying on behalf of an agribusiness trade association specifically on water policy and drought legislation.

Like countless other former politicians, he’s cashing in on the connections he made as an elected official to repay the special interest who funded his political career.

The revolving door between government and lobbying is out of control.

Cardoza is just one example of a problem that’s corrupting our government.

Special interests regularly use future jobs as lobbyists to bribe members of Congress—just like the agribusiness lobby did with Cardoza. It’s called the revolving door. And it has become shockingly common—50% of senators and 42% of Members now leave Congress to become lobbyists (as opposed to just 3% in 1974), and they get on average a 1,500% raise.

The revolving door has nothing to do with Citizens United or the supreme court — it’s just a loophole that politicians have been exploiting like never before hoping nobody will notice.

Corruption is legal. But it doesn’t have to be.

We’re already building a movement to pass Anti-Corruption Acts at the local, state, and federal level to make this kind of behavior illegal (the way it should be). However, we can’t do that unless we educate millions of Americans on our nation’s corruption problem — and the plan to fix it. Please, help us spread the word:

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