Ex-lawmakers on K Street avoid ‘Scarlet L,’ shy away from registering as lobbyists

Several former lawmakers are shying away from registering as lobbyists despite the end of a cooling-off period in the House that had barred them from soliciting their ex-colleagues.

The Hill found roughly 30 lawmakers from the 111th Congress who are employed at law firms, lobby shops, trade groups and think tanks that are registered to lobby. Yet only 10 of those individuals are themselves registered to lobby. 

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Former lawmakers at the registered firms say they want to stay involved in public policy debates but find trooping up to Capitol Hill to advocate for clients unappealing. Corporate headhunters say ex-lawmakers are wary of the 

“Scarlet L” — the taint of being a registered lobbyist — because it could hinder future political ambitions.

Chris Jones, managing partner of 

CapitolWorks, said former lawmakers are avoiding the lobbyist tag by working as “senior advisers” at law firms and lobby shops.

“According to their job definition, they are not really meeting the lobbying threshold. … They are probably managing the effort rather than physically lobbying for the client. This is the 30,000-foot view of the project,” said Jones, who recruits lawyers and lobbyists for firms. “That seems to be the scarlet letter. People like to throw it around with disgust.”

The 10 ex-members from the 111th Congress registered to lobby in the past year are former Reps. Allen Boyd (D-Fla.), Steve Buyer (R-Ind.), Mike Castle (R-Del.), Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.), Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-S.D.), Walt Minnick (D-Idaho), Earl Pomeroy (D-N.D.), John Shadegg (R-Ariz.), Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) and John Tanner (D-Tenn.).

Ex-members of the House are subject to a cooling-off period that bans them from lobbying either chamber of Congress for a year, though they are permitted to lobby the executive branch. For the 111th Congress, the cooling-off period ended in January.

Senators are subject to a two-year cooling-off period for lobbying Congress that will end next January. Several ex-senators from the 111th Congress, including Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), took jobs at law firms and trade groups but have not registered to lobby.

Jones said ex-members of Congress often enter into negotiations with firms with the unspoken understanding that they do not want to be asked to register to lobby. Often, firms arrange job duties for the ex-lawmaker that would not require them to register, according to headhunters.

“Being a senior government-relations adviser is sort of like the expression ‘the love that dares not speak its name,’ ” Jones said. “They don’t like to say what it is, but they know exactly what you are doing.”

Former Rep. Jim Oberstar (D-Minn.) said he told prospective employers right from the start that he wouldn’t lobby.

“I made it clear to the various groups that sought me out after the election to consult with, I said, ‘Fine, I will consult with you, share ideas, but I will not 

lobby,’ ” said Oberstar, now a senior adviser to National Strategies. “I have no problem with it. But for me, it just doesn’t fit. … I just don’t like the idea of going up to members’ offices to talk with them and plead on behalf of clients.”

Some of Oberstar’s former colleagues moved quickly into the lobbying business.

Minnick said that his family had planned to move to Washington if he won his 2010 reelection bid. After he lost, he asked his wife what she wanted to do.

“I said, ‘If you still want to move to D.C., I think I can find things to do here,’ ” Minnick said. “ ‘I haven’t been much of a dad or a spouse for the past few years, between the campaign and being in Congress. Your call.’ ”

She chose Washington, and Minnick co-founded his own lobby shop, the Majority Group. The firm lobbied for several clients last quarter, including the National Potato Council and Miami University.

The ex-congressman said the stigma attached to lobbying doesn’t bother him. 

“Lobbyists, much like lawyers, perform very needed functions for people who need to deal with the government on an issue and really have no idea how to do it,” Minnick said. 

Boyd works for the Twenty First Century Group and chose to register to lobby because he thought he “was way too young to stop working.” 

“I loved my service in the U.S. House. It was very rewarding in a lot of ways,” Boyd said. “I do find [lobbying] quite rewarding. You work hard every day, and you hopefully accomplish some good things.” 

Boyd was registered to lobby last quarter for several clients, including Time Warner Cable and Verizon. 

Others registered to lobby out of caution, in an effort to be sure they were complying with the rules. 

“I registered to make sure there was no way in the world that I would run afoul of any requirement,” said Pomeroy, now senior counsel for Alston + Bird. 

“I’m not holding myself out as a lobbyist per se. It’s really more a matter of practicing law. … But when it comes to those things, sometimes you do have to register, and I will when the occasion rises,” said Castle, now a partner at DLA Piper who lobbied for Cape Wind Associates last quarter. 

Some ex-lawmakers have made it clear that they never intend to be lobbyists. 

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On its website, Kanjorski & Associates — the consulting firm founded by former Rep. Paul Kanjorski (D-Pa.) — says that they “are strategic consultants and not registered lobbyists. We are not currently planning to engage in any lobbying activity; that is, we do not intend to contact current members of Congress in an attempt to influence their votes on pending legislation.” 

Larry Latourette, executive director of the partner practice at Lateral Link and another headhunter, said being a registered lobbyist can be a liability for ex-lawmakers who want to return to politics. 

“While providing an indispensable public function, being a registered lobbyist makes running for any future office or obtaining any future government position exceedingly difficult and currently has one of the lowest rankings in the social hierarchy of legal and many illegal professions,” Latourette said. 

Other former members from the 111th Congress have kept their distance from K Street. 

Former Rep. George Radanovich (R-Calif.) told The Hill he was “just not interested in lobbying.” The former lawmaker previously worked for the DEH Group, a government-relations firm that had a registered lobbyist, but Radanovich never registered to lobby. 

Former Rep. Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.) said he chose not to become a lobbyist because he wanted distance from Washington. He started Zach Wamp Consulting, which offers business development services, consulting and economic development from its home base in Chattanooga, Tenn.   

“The air is fresher outside of Washington. That is a proverbial statement, but it’s really true,” Wamp said. “After 16 years of being there all of the time, I was just looking forward to not being there.”