We’ve all heard of the revolving door, whereby corporate executives move between private industry and the public sector, often into regulatory positions. This could be a consequence of many things, such as a desire for specialized expertise by the government, or the wish of the employee to put his or her dedicated knowledge to good use in the public interest.

While it’s a good bet that both of these factors are involved, a recent study notes that it may be a little more complicated than that.

New research shows inducements exist for the public-service minded
As the placement of former Citigroup (NYSE:C) wealth-management COO Jack Lew took up its fair share of the political headlines, some questioned the incentives contained in his employment contract with Citi. It seems that, if Lew had left the bank for any other job than a high-ranking position with the U.S. government, he would not have received some sweet financial benefits, including immediate vesting of his Citi stock.

Was this an unusual clause in executives’ contracts? The Project On Government Oversight looked into this issue, and found that, in fact, it is not uncommon at all.

For example, POGO found that JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM) has made clear to its execs that full-time employment in local, state, or federal government -- as long as they don’t plan to retire from it -- can garner them instant access to stock that they otherwise would have waited much longer to claim.

Similarly, Morgan Stanley (NYSE:MS) offers incentives to aspire to public employment, in the form of a bonus that would otherwise be lost if a position was taken with a private employer. One such executive left the firm to work for President Obama’s administration, and received a $5 million “accelerated” stock bonus back in 2010. He has since returned to Morgan Stanley.

Other firms have similar rules, such as Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS), which allows a nice cash payment if executives leave the firm for a wide array of different public service positions – apparently at the discretion of the company – some of which aren’t even U.S.-based. Non-bank companies also tuck comparable provisions into their own employment contracts, such as mortgage giant Fannie Mae and asset managers Blackstone Group.

Undue influence?
All of this activity is perfectly legal, of course, but with distrust of Wall Street still rampant, it isn’t apt to help rebuild public confidence. Payouts tied to public employment opportunities can’t help but look like rewards for doing the former employer’s bidding, especially since those same payments must be forfeited – or are non-existent – if the new job resides in the private sector. Patriotic, or symbiotic? You decide.