Republican Congress lures lobbyists back to Capitol Hill

Greg Nash

Washington’s revolving door is spinning in the reverse direction for some lobbyists, who are leaving the creature comforts of K Street for longer hours and lower pay on Capitol Hill.

As always, some congressional aides will be cashing in on their connections to lobby during the 114th Congress. But the lure of a GOP-dominated House and Senate is enough to draw many lobbyists back to the legislative branch.

“People are interviewing all over the Hill. If you go to the Rayburn cafeteria during the day, you’ll see interviews all over the place,” Ivan Adler, a principal at The McCormick Group, said in reference to the bustling mess hall within the largest House office building. “The Rayburn cafeteria is one big interview central.”

K Street insiders say people typically return to the public sector for any of three reasons: because they truly miss the policy work, to refresh their contacts and upgrade their resume, or because they are personally asked.

For instance, outgoing chief of staff for Sen. Rob PortmanRob PortmanDemocrats pounce on Cruz's Supreme Court comments Five takeaways from Florida Senate debate Endangered GOP senator: I don't know for whom I'll vote MORE (R-Ohio) Rob Lehman helped recruit lobbyist Mark Isakowitz to replace him, in a move made public Tuesday.

Isakowitz, a Cleveland native who formed the top-performing Republican lobby firm Fierce Isakowitz & Blalock, previously worked for late Rep. Paul Gillmor (R-Ohio), the Bush-Cheney Transition Advisory Team and as the director of federal governmental relations for the National Federation of Independent Business.

“I have known him for over 20 years,” Portman said in an emailed statement to The Hill. “He’ll be a great leader for our team.”

Rep. Jason ChaffetzJason ChaffetzGOP lawmaker who compared Trump to Mussolini will vote for him Brent Budowsky: An epic battle for the future of Congress House GOP alleges political interference in EPA water rule MORE (R-Utah), the incoming chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, recently hired Podesta Group lobbyist Sean McLaughlin as the staff director for the panel. Among his clients at the firm are Google, Wal-Mart, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and Herbalife.

Before joining the Podesta group in 2012, McLaughlin was the leading Republican staffer for the House Judiciary Committee, spending five years as the staff director. He also served as the deputy assistant attorney general at the Justice Department in the George W. Bush administration.

The new role puts McLaughlin, who helped work on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the USA Patriot Act and regulatory reform legislation, in a key position as Republicans try and challenge President Obama during his last two years in office. 

At least six other private-sector Republicans are headed back to Capitol Hill, according to official releases about the hires and the congressional website Legistorm. Headhunters, congressional staffers and other Republicans on K Street told The Hill that number is likely to grow, with meetings happening daily.

Jeff Shockey, a former House Appropriations panel aide, has become the staff director for the GOP-led House Intelligence Committee, according to a release from incoming chairman Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.). He founded Shockey Scofield Solutions in 2011 and represents clients including Boeing, United Technologies, General Dynamics, Northrop Grumman and Academi, the defense contractor formerly known as Blackwater.

This is Shockey’s second return to Capitol Hill from the private sector.

Neither Shockey nor McLaughlin could be reached for comment.

Christine Heggem, a lobbyist at the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, told The Hill that her November hire on the House Agriculture Committee is not the next step she thought her career would take.

“When this opportunity came up, it was out of the blue and I took a long time to think about it,” she said, noting that the talks began even before the election, in anticipation of a Republican takeover. “But the opportunity to go work for a member that I like and respect, and the opportunity to go work on issues that I think are important — it was too much for me to resist.”

She will serve as the director of coalitions and outreach for the Agriculture panel, beginning in January.

Heggem previously worked for former Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) and later as a staffer to the Senate Appropriations Committee before leaving in 2008 to lobby for mCapitol Management. She has been with the NRECA since 2010.

Colin Hayes, meanwhile, didn’t stay away for too long. 

After leaving the office of Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa MurkowskiThe most important question in 2017: how do we get to yes? Writing in Mike Pence won’t do any good in these states GOP senators avoid Trump questions on rigged election MORE (R-Alaska) last year to become an executive vice president at McBee Strategic Consulting, he will be circling right back into Congress as the deputy staff director for the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Murkowski is poised to become the panel’s chairwoman.

Experts say that while most lobbyists will be taking a pay cut in order to work on Capitol Hill, senior-level committee posts can still pay within the lower six-figure range. Personal offices generally have a lower pay scale.

Rep. Randy NeugebauerRandy NeugebauerCourt ruling highlights need for new CFPB structure Top CFTC aide joins boutique K Street firm Yahoo hack spurs push for legislation MORE (R-Texas) hired former financial services lobbyist Kelli Nelson McMorrow as his legislative director. She most recently worked at Financial Executives International, and before that at the Manufactured Housing Institute. She began her career in Washington in the office of then-Rep. Donald Manzullo (R-Ill.).

Not all of those making the trip back to Capitol Hill from K Street, however, are formal lobbyists.

Brendan Buck, the vice president of communications for America’s Health Insurance Plans, has been tapped to be the communications director for the House Ways and Means Committee majority under its new chairman, Rep. Paul RyanPaul RyanCures bill in jeopardy amid drug pricing push Brent Budowsky: An epic battle for the future of Congress NRCC ad touts GOP rep for bucking Trump MORE (R-Wis.).

Buck, previously a top aide to Speaker John Boeher (R-Ohio), had only been with the association for about six months.

Charles Ingebretson has not been a registered lobbyist for about a decade, working for Boeing as vice president of energy and environmental policy. He will now work as the chief counsel to the House Energy and Commerce Oversight Committee’s investigations subpanel.

He has a history with the House Energy Committee, once serving as a counsel to the panel’s Republicans. He left to go lobby at a big law firm and then went to Honeywell International. Before going to Boeing in 2010, Ingebretson spent five years at the Environmental Protection Agency.

The staff churn is seen as a direct result of the Republican electoral gains in November.

Adler, the headhunter, said there is always greater interest working on Capitol Hill following a shift in power.

“If you’re going to go back, you want to be in the majority,” he said.