Job market heats up for Senate GOP aides

With talk of a takeover growing, K Street shops are beginning to eye Senate Republican aides as potential hires ahead of the midterm elections.

Law and lobby firms will want to have a back channel to Senate Republican leaders if they win the majority in November. Consequently, aides who work closely with GOP leaders are seeing their stock rise in the job market, lobbyists and headhunters say.

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“There’s absolutely been an uptick in Senate Republican aides in the past couple of months,” said Hunter Bates, a principal at Republic Consulting who is a former chief of staff to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

“The political climate and the 2014 Senate map has caused a great deal of interest in Senate Republican aides, and I think that interest will only increase throughout the year.”

Larry Latourette, a principal for Lateral Link, said he has already had several meetings this month with firms that are looking to hire Senate Republican aides.

“The common wisdom is that the Republicans are going to take the Senate, but there’s enough concern out there that firms are not paying big bucks now on the comp,” Latourette said. “The market will be probably trending up for Senate Republican aides over the next coming months.”

Headhunters estimate Senate GOP staffers could expect between $175,000 to $400,000 in annual salary for top influence industry jobs. That range is higher than the $174,000 per year that their current bosses on Capitol Hill are pulling down in pay.

 If a hiring spree begins, aides who are closest to GOP leadership would be the most highly prized.

Staffers topping K Street wish lists include Sharon Soderstrom, chief of staff in McConnell’s leadership office, and Josh Holmes, who is now working on McConnell’s reelection campaign after serving as his personal office’s chief of staff.

Indeed, nearly all of McConnell’s senior aides — including policy advisers Neil Chatterjee and Brendan Dunn — would likely be fielding job offers from K Street if McConnell were to win reelection and ascend to Senate majority leader.

Staffers for McConnell’s second in command, Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), would be nearly as valuable.

Several in the influence industry said Beth Jafari, the chief of staff for Cornyn’s personal office, and Russ Thomasson, chief of staff for the whip’s office, are on the shortlists for recruits.

Other senior GOP staff, including Doug Schwartz, chief of staff for the Senate Republican Conference, and Dan Kunsman, chief of staff for Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), could also become K Street targets.

 Lobby shops will also be looking to hire GOP aides away from powerful Senate committees.

David Schwietert, minority staff director for the Senate Commerce Committee; Chris Campbell, the Senate Finance Committee’s GOP staff director; and Mark Prater, the Finance panel’s Republican deputy staff director and chief tax counsel who helped run the “supercommittee,” were all mentioned to The Hill as being held in high esteem by the influence industry.  

Their value will only grow if Republicans look more likely to take the Senate. Nate Silver, editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight, made waves on Sunday by saying that Republicans are “slight favorites” to win the Senate.

“One could make a useful bet right now that the Republicans can take the Senate, and if that’s the case, it would be nice to have one of those people,” one GOP lobbyist said.

“Like any market-based economic model, you are going to want people to help your cause,” said Chris Jones, managing partner at CapitolWorks. “If they’re in short supply, even if it’s a Furby, their value goes up.” 

Lobby shops know they will have to make strong offers to GOP aides, as many of them will be reluctant to give up their chance to serve in the majority.

“While Senate leadership aides will be high-profile targets for K Street, it will be a hard decision for them to leave if we get in the majority,” Bates said. “They have labored in the vineyards for years. Team McConnell engenders a great deal of loyalty.”

Senate Republicans had good odds to win the chamber in the 2010 and 2012 cycles, only to see it slip away both times.

“You have staffers on the Hill that have been in the wilderness for years now, sitting in the back seat and watching the Democrats drive the car. They are probably not going to want to leave,” Latourette said.

A further complication for K Street will be the “cooling-off” period under ethics rules. Former Senate personal and committee staff may not lobby their respective employers for one year, while “senior” Senate aides — those making $130,500 or more per year — cannot lobby the whole Senate for a year.

“You have to make an economic decision when you bet on somebody. The cooling-off period for Capitol Hill has definitely changed recruitment. You have to build in different calculations if you are bringing somebody on,” said a former Senate Republican leadership aide now on K Street.

Some GOP aides have already left the Senate. Rohit Kumar, McConnell’s former deputy chief of staff, joined PricewaterhouseCoopers as co-leader of its tax policy services practice last September. Jonathan Lieber, also once a McConnell aide, went to thumbtack.com last month, and Dave Schiappa, former secretary for the Republican senators, went to the Duberstein Group in August last year.

Earlier this month, Forbes-Tate brought on Antonia Ferrier, communications director and senior adviser to Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), the Finance Committee’s ranking member — now giving the Democratic-leaning lobby shop three Republicans on its payroll.

“We always hire based on personality and fit in the firm. That said, we did collectively target strengthening our Senate Republican reach,” said Jeff Forbes, the firm’s founding partner, saying Ferrier meshed perfectly. “There is always a need for Senate and House Republican and Democratic coverage, that’s a given.”

Ivan Adler, a principal at The McCormick Group, said Senate GOP aides would see their value spike if their party were to take control of the Senate.

“Republican Senate staffers are about to become the kings of the forest again and those closest to the crown will be the most valuable. That’s just the reality,” Adler said. 

“There will be some musical chairs on K Street. It will cause some churn in the marketplace.”