Sen. Nelson could get $1M from K Street

Sen. Ben Nelson would draw salary offers of more than $1 million per year if he decided to move to K Street after his term ends in 2013, headhunters for the lobbying industry say. 

Headhunters contacted by The Hill estimated that Nelson could command salaries from $400,000 to more than $1 million per year, depending on whether he wanted to work full- or part-time.

“[Lobbying firms are] going to look at him as a conservative Democrat, and I think that will stand well for him in the business community,” said Chris Jones of CapitolWorks.

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Nelson has given no indication that he is interested in working for a lobbying firm after he leaves office. In a video announcing his retirement Tuesday, the Nebraska Democrat said he wants to spend more time with his family and will “look for new ways to serve our state and nation.”

A spokesman for Nelson said the senator hasn’t figured out his next career move.

“At this point he’s looking to do other things in life, spending more time with his family, spending more time in Nebraska. ... As far as future work, he hasn’t determined in any way what that might be,” spokesman Jake Thompson told The Hill. 

The path to the influence industry is well-traveled by centrist Democrats like Nelson. Former Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) was hired as an adviser for the hedge fund Apollo Global Management LLC after leaving office last year. Another recent departure from the upper chamber, former Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), took a job with the law and lobby firm Alston & Bird.

Conservative Blue Dog Democrats from the House have also been popular hires for downtown firms. Former Reps. Walt Minnick (D-Idaho), Earl Pomeroy (D-N.D.) and Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.) all landed at big-name shops after leaving or being voted out of office last year.

Nelson’s background in the insurance industry, coupled with his friendly ties to Republicans, makes him a prized recruit for the lobbying industry, insiders say.

“I think he would be a very wanted commodity on K Street because he is a Democrat who certainly gets along with the business community and, in fact, has a business background,” Ivan Adler, principal at The McCormick Group, told The Hill.

Nelson will be legally barred from lobbying Congress until 2015. That could affect the calculus for some firms, which might not be able to afford having Nelson on the payroll during the two-year cooling-off period.

White his two terms as Nebraska governor and experience as a state insurance director make for a strong resume, it’s Nelson’s two terms in the Senate that would be the biggest draw for potential employers. He sits on the Agriculture, Armed Services, Rules and Administration and Appropriations committees — each a prime niche for lobbyists.

Jones, a headhunter for government-relations jobs, said a lot would depend on how busy Nelson wanted to be. 

“I think part of the downside is that he’s kind of far along in his career, so that I don’t know how anxious he’s going to be to hustle and bustle for clients,” Jones said. 

“The question is: How much will law firms pay for that in this economy? In his case, it could be quite a bit.”

—This article has been corrected to reflect that Rep. Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.) retired from Congress in 2010.