K Street shops eye vulnerable Dems as potential recruits

K Street is scouring the ranks of lawmakers facing tough reelection races or retirement, looking to snag top-tier lobbyists.

With Republicans set to notch major gains in the midterm elections, possibly enough to retake control of Congress, a flood of former Democratic lawmakers may be looking for new jobs, and many may turn to K Street.

ADVERTISEMENT
“There will be a lot of interest from K Street in hiring former members,” said Ivan Adler, of the McCormick Group Inc. “I’ve already had inquiries from law, lobbying firms asking, ‘Can I help them set up meetings with particular members if they lose?’ ”

More than 150 former lawmakers were registered lobbyists in 2009; others work in law or consulting fields closely related to lobbying. At least 156 more former members registered to lobby in 2009, according to CQMoneyline.com, including 127 former representatives, 15 former senators and 14 who served in both chambers. Seventy-five were Democrats, and 81 Republicans.

Lawmakers were skittish about talking about becoming a lobbyist, with most of them focused on their reelection bids.

“I intend to come back here and legislate. That is what I intend to do,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.). Connolly, a Senate staffer for a decade, said when he left his Capitol Hill job earlier in his career, he decided he didn’t want to return “with hat in hand” as a lobbyist.

“I don’t think about losing. I think about winning,” said Rep. Paul Kanjorski (D-Pa.), a powerful member of the House Financial Services Committee.

One lawmaker-turned-lobbyist, former Rep. Jim Walsh (R-N.Y.), said he talked to universities about teaching jobs, as well as law firms back in his home district and several lobby shops in Washington.

“When I decided to leave Congress, I didn’t rule any job out,” said Walsh, now a government-affairs counselor at K&L Gates.

After deciding in February 2008 to retire from Congress, Walsh began reaching out to ex-members who went on to lobbying, like former Reps. Bob Livingston (R-La.) and Bill Paxon (R-N.Y.). By July, Walsh had touched base with a head-hunting firm to gauge the interest of various schools and firms.

But the former House Appropriations Committee member didn’t make a final decision until after the 2008 election. That is when he sat down with K&L Gates.

“I really didn’t talk to them seriously after the election. I let the headhunter do most of the work,” Walsh said.

Like Livingston and Paxon did with him, Walsh has given advice to three or four retiring lawmakers in both parties about what to do after Congress, he said, including lobbying. Walsh said it was best for ex-lawmakers to consult as many people as possible in choosing their next job — and that lobbying has its perks.

“Talk to a lot of people. Listen to what they have to say. People, especially former members, will tell what it is like to transition,” Walsh said. “When you are lobbying, you don’t have to take a position on everything. You can pick and choose a little.”

Adler said most members he’s talked to would like to serve as a kind of “Sherpa,” guiding clients through the legislative process rather than lobbying directly. 

“I don’t think they want to be perceived as having the scarlet ‘L’ if they don’t have to,” he said.

Some lawmakers already know what they’ll do next. Rep. Artur Davis (D-Ala.), who is retiring, wants to be a white-collar criminal defense lawyer in the Washington area.

“No interest in lobbying. I respect people who do it. But it’s just not something I have any interest in doing,” Davis said. “I’m a litigator. I want to get back in the courtroom.”

The Alabama lawmaker said members with bipartisan chops or who have developed mastery of a niche issue could find themselves in demand from K Street.

“John Tanner can probably have his pick of three or four different trade associations because of his ableness on the Ways and Means Committee and the fact that he worked so well with the business community,” Davis said.

Randy Ford, Tanner’s chief of staff, said the retiring congressman has not made any decisions.

“Congressman Tanner is focused on the remainder of the 111th Congress and has not made any further decisions,” Ford said in an e-mail to The Hill.

Davis also mentioned two House members running in tough Senate races — Reps. Kendrick Meek (D-Fla.) and Charlie Melancon (D-La.) — as potentially great K Streeters.

“A lot of people respect [Melancon’s] expertise on ag issues,” while Meek “is someone who has worked extremely effectively across the aisle and has very strong relationships in the business community,” according to Davis.

“Obviously, both Charlie and Kendrick would rather win the races, and I hope they do,” Davis said. “But if for some reason they don’t, I think both of them would have some excellent opportunities in that world.”