Lobbyists took $100K cut in pay to work for members of Congress

Some lobbyists who went to work on Capitol Hill this year took a pay cut of about $100,000, an analysis by The Hill shows.

A review of financial disclosure reports for lobbyists who were hired as congressional aides in 2011 reveal that they were paid hundreds of thousands, and in some cases millions, of dollars in salaries, bonuses and severances while working on K Street in 2010. 

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Many of those lobbyists agreed to substantial reductions in their annual salary for a chance to work for members of Congress, public records show.

The Hill found financial disclosure reports revealing K Street salaries for at least 34 new Capitol Hill aides who were registered to lobby last year at the federal or state level. The analysis relied on data compiled in a joint project between the watchdogs Remapping Debate and the Center for Responsive Politics, as well as salary information from Legistorm.

The ex-lobbyists who went to work in the House earned, on average, more than $238,000 per year while working on K Street. Those same lobbyists are on pace to make more than $144,000 per year, on average, in the House, which equals an average pay cut of about $94,000.

Ex-lobbyists who went to work in the Senate last year were earning more than $309,000, on average, in their old jobs, according to financial disclosure forms. They are on pace to take in an average of more than $160,000 as a staffer, for an average pay cut of more than $149,000.

It is difficult to calculate the precise salary of congressional aides due to the way the data is reported. Legistorm compiles salary information from House and Senate spending reports that detail only what aides earned in a reported time period. The pay rate recorded might or might not be the exact rate of pay for the whole year. 

When possible, The Hill used salary information gleaned from congressional committee records and interviews.

But even with the rough salary estimates available from the data, there is no doubt many lobbyists took a significant pay cut to work for lawmakers.

Ivan Adler, a principal at the McCormick Group, said lobbyists return to Congress not for the salary but because it can help polish their résumés.

“If they have a chance to go back to the Hill to work for leadership or in a senior role at a substantial ‘money’ committee, it’s an opportunity to embellish their backgrounds and thus become more valuable,” Adler said.

He said a legislative aide who left Capitol Hill for a midlevel lobbying job at a corporation or trade association could move up a rung in the congressional hierarchy to a position such as a chief of staff or senior aide to committee. That experience will make them much more valuable should they choose to return to K Street, said Adler, a headhunter for lobbying jobs. 

“They become even more valuable coming off the Hill because that’s a higher-level position with a different set of contacts. It increases their knowledge of people, process and policy,” Adler said.

A Republican lobbyist who considered returning to Capitol Hill this Congress, however, said denizens of K Street sometimes just grow bored of the influence industry.

“The older guys can afford to do it. The younger guys are coming back, refreshing their contacts and can come off the Hill and do something else,” the lobbyist said. “There is a big boredom factor downtown, and they are excited to be part of a new Republican majority. You are taking a big pay cut coming back. Does it pay off? Probably.”

Some of the lobbyists are likely to see huge pay cuts from the job switch. Howard Cohen, formerly of HC Associates Inc.,  faces a steep drop in salary now as chief health counsel of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

While working at his firm last year, Cohen earned more than $1 million lobbying for clients including Amgen, the Federation of American Hospitals and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, according to his financial disclosure form. Now in Congress, Cohen has an annual salary of $168,000, according to House records.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee has been a popular destination for ex-lobbyists. At least four other individuals who were registered to lobby at some point in 2010 now work for the committee: Gary Andres, formerly of Dutko Worldwide; James Barnette, once of Steptoe & Johnson; David McCarthy, who worked for Algenol Biofuels; and Michael Bloomquist, who lobbied while at Wiley Rein.

A spokeswoman for the House Energy and Commerce Committee said Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), the panel’s chairman, requires his staff not to work with their former employers. 

“Chairman Upton has a policy that goes above and beyond the requirements of the House rules and requires staff to recuse themselves from working on issues that specifically affect a former employer,” said Alexa Marrero, the committee spokeswoman.

Andres, once a heavyweight at top-earning lobby firm Dutko, reported earning more than $418,000 last year from the firm. Now the former lobbyist will have a $172,500 annual salary, according to House records. 

Some were drawn to Congress for policy reasons. When asked why he went back to Capitol Hill, Barnette, now the committee’s general counsel, said via a spokeswoman, “March 23, 2010,” referring to the day the healthcare reform law was passed.

Other former lobbyists had big K Street paydays, records show.

Cesar Conda made $376,000 from Navigators Global in salary last year, according to his financial disclosure report. He is now Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-Fla.) chief of staff.

Conda’s former colleague at Navigators, Don Kent, now chief of staff to Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), made more than $227,000 in his bonus and salary last year from the firm.

And Brett Loper, now the policy director at the House Republican Steering Committee, earned more than $549,000 in his salary and bonus from his lobbying job at the Advanced Medical Technology Association last year.

Those relationships had to be severed once they came to Capitol Hill.

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Spencer Stokes sold his firm, Stokes Strategies, for more than $1.1 million, which will be paid out in a one-time sum of $135,000 and monthly installments of $17,000 over a five-year period, according to his financial disclosure report. Having earned more than $565,000 last year from his firm, Stokes is on pace to earn more than $169,000 this year as freshman Sen. Mike Lee’s (R-Utah) chief of staff, according to a spokeswoman for Lee.

Stokes said he joined Lee’s staff because he was intrigued by public service.

“I felt that it was a good time to give some time to do things that would be beneficial to my kids and grandkids. And it’s a fascinating time now,” he said.

Stokes said he didn’t know if he would lobby again in the future.

“People say, ‘You’re just going to take this and parlay it into some federal lobbying career.’ I really don’t know what I’m going to do after this. I have absolutely no plans,” Stokes said. “I’m just going to do the best that I can do at this job and work hard for the senator and for the state of Utah.”

Tim Harris, formerly a state lobbyist for the Indiana Utility Shareholders Association, said he was drawn by his friendship with Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-Ind.), having served with him in Indiana’s statehouse. Harris will actually see a pay increase from his switch to Capitol Hill, having earned more than $101,000 from his trade group last year and now on pace to earn $140,000 as Stutzman’s chief of staff, according to Harris.

Harris said he was bound by ethics rules not to act on behalf of his former clients.

“We actually checked with the ethics office. I certainly can’t do anything on their behalf. It’s actually a little easier to go from being a lobbyist to a congressional staffer than the opposite,” Harris said.

Harris is right that while former congressional aides are banned for a time from lobbying their ex-Capitol Hill colleagues, there aren’t similar restrictions placed on lobbyists who come to work for Congress.

“When we think of the revolving door between government and the lobbying world, it is easy to forget that it spins both ways,” said Dave Levinthal, a spokesman for the Center for Responsive Politics. “It does raise the specter of whether allegiances or loyalties to their previous employer or employers will have an impact on their work on Capitol Hill. That is a notoriously difficult thing to track.”


Ex-Lobbyist, former firm Firm pay Capitol Hill position
Howard Cohen, HC Associates Inc. $1,015,000.00 Chief Health Counsel, House Energy and Commerce Committee
Spencer Stokes, Stokes Strategies $565,100.00 Chief of staff, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah)
Brett Loper, Advanced Medical Technology Association $549,808.82 Policy director, House Republican Steering Committee
Phil Kiko, Foley & Lardner $487,000.00 Staff director, House Administration
Committee
James Barnette, Steptoe & Johnson $461,396.92 General counsel, House Energy and Commerce Committee
Dwight Fettig, Porterfield & Lowenthal $448,225.00 Staff director, Senate Banking Committee
Robert Lehman, Squire Sanders Public Advocacy $440,000.00 Chief of staff, Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio)
Gary Andres, Dutko Worldwide $418,479.84 Staff director, House Energy and Commerce Committee
Cesar Conda, Navigators Global $376,000.00 Chief of staff, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.)
Michael Bloomquist, Wiley Rein $335,000.00 Deputy general counsel, House Energy and Commerce Committee

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