James Ross Lightfoot was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1984 and served there for six terms. During that time, he served as chairman of the subcommittee of the United States House Committee on Appropriations, which funded the Treasury Department, Postal Service, White House and other federal agencies. Lightfoot also spent eight years on the United States House Transportation Subcommittee on Aviation dealing with transportation issues. He holds commercial pilot and flight instructor ratings, which have allowed him a wide perspective on the aviation industry. His experience as an award winning farm and ranch broadcaster prior to being elected to Congress, allowed him special insight and influence on agricultural issues. His extensive experience as a business owner and manufacturing plant manager allowed him to bring a type of common sense to Capitol Hill that is very much needed. He wrote and was able to pass legislation that eliminated the Alternative Minimum Tax for farmers going out of business during the very tough economic time in the mid-nineteen eighties. Lightfoot was also responsible for saving tax payers millions of dollars by moving government payments onto a direct deposit system, thus eliminating paper checks and the attendant fraud. Through his vigilance and work as one of the Appropriations "Cardinals" he was able to shut down the multi-billion dollar waste of money at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for their so-called Tax System Modernization that had become nothing more than a black hole for tax dollars. Working with, then head of the US Mint Philip Diehl, Lightfoot convinced the Congress to waive normal government procurement procedures during the construction of a new headquarters building for the Mint. The project came in ahead of time and well under budget. He also established work merit performance standards. During his tenure on the Appropriations Committee he had responsibility for the budgets of nearly 40% of Federal Law Enforcement including the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC). His experience as a police officer provided a special understanding of Federal Law Enforcement and allowed him to work with those agencies in a manner that was productive for law enforcement and the public they serve. The Federal Law Enforcement community has presented Lightfoot with a number of awards and consider him to be a true friend of law enforcement.

In 1996, conforming to a promise to only serve twelve years in Congress, he left his seat to run for the United States Senate against Democratic incumbent, Tom Harkin. His entry into the race came in March, very late in the election cycle. At a severe financial disadvantage, Lightfoot narrowly lost the race, after strong pre-election campaigning on Harkin's behalf by then President Bill Clinton. Harkin spent $6,070,137 compared to Lightfoot's $2,439,679. The winning votes cost Harkin $582 each.

In 1998, at the request of the Republican Party, he ran against then state senator Tom Vilsack for Governor of Iowa, a race that Mr. Vilsack, with strong backing from Harkin, won.

In December 1998 Lightfoot joined Forensic Technology, Inc. as Vice President Government Affairs. After ten years with FTI, Lightfoot left the company and started his own business, Lightfoot Strategies.

Lightfoot has also served as Senior Policy Advisor for Federal Government Relations, with the Washington, D.C., office of Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney as a non-attorney professional in the firm's Federal Government Relations Section.

Lightfoot’s personal and professional awards include the Oscar in Agriculture Award, Jason Award, AOPA Hartranft Award, FAA Excellence Award, Honorary ATF Agent, Top Cops Award and Secret Service Director's Award. He serves on the board of directors for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC).

NCMEC named Lightfoot Emeritus Director in 2006.

Lightfoot is owner of Lightfoot Strategies.