By Elana Schor - 02/28/06 12:00 AM EST
Between guilty pleas in court and thrashings in the media, recent months have not been kind to the lobbying industry. So when Terry Haines needed some perspective on the dark days descending over his profession, he looked to an unlikely source: “Tommy the Cork.”
The Cork, whose real name was Tommy Corcoran, was a crafty senior aide to President Franklin D. Roosevelt who also became the father of today’s K Street. Haines picked up Corcoran’s biography, written by the chief of staff to Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), and was surprised to discover how freely the Cork pushed Washington’s limits to help his friends, from then-Sen. Lyndon Johnson (D-Texas) to the Catholic Church.
“It was a good book to read in January,” Haines recalled with a self-deprecating grin.
The former staff director and chief counsel of the House Financial Services Committee has reason to breathe easier this month, having emerged unscathed from the collapse of the once-mighty Alexander Strategy Group (ASG) to find a new home at Buchanan Ingersoll. Haines is embarking on a homecoming of sorts, as both he and his new firm hail from Pittsburgh (the firm was founded there), and he relishes the new challenge of expanding Buchanan’s lobbying arm to rival its thriving legal practice.
“It’s a top priority for Buchanan Ingersoll to become as world-class in government relations as they are in the legal world,” Haines said. “To me, this is a quantitatively different kind of opportunity.”
Haines signed on to work with Buchanan head lobbyist Ron Platt as ASG prepared to close its doors in the wake of the Jack Abramoff lobbying imbroglio. Though Haines had never met the canny GOP superlobbyist, ASG Chairman Ed Buckham and partner Tony Rudy maintained close ties to Abramoff’s operation, and the firm began hemorrhaging clients soon after Abramoff’s guilty pleas.
Haines’s lobbying strategy, however, reflects his down-to-earth manner and a genuine passion for policy as well as politics. Since starting his career in the 1980s as a Republican counsel to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Haines has made solving problems a priority over making deals.
“You have to start with what the actual problem is,” Haines said. “There are always going to be people who think of [lobbying] as access, but that’s not it.”
Thomas Worrall, another Pittsburgh-bred lobbyist, who befriended Haines more than five years ago, also singled out Haines for having a rare combination of book smarts and street smarts.
“In Washington there are sometimes folks who know politics and folks who know policy. Terry is a unique breed who’s very conversant in both,” Worrall said. “That gives him the ability to both have substance and also know how politics can affect outcomes. It’s an important combination in the business.”
Haines noted that his pitches to lawmakers and staffers rarely reach the personal level.
“They are not going to do it because you want them to do it, and you shouldn’t ask them,” Haines said.
That includes Rep. Mike Oxley (R-Ohio), the powerful Financial Services chairman whom Haines continues to count as a close friend. In 2001, when Oxley was handed the reins of the House’s first new committee in 30 years, he turned to Haines to build a team from scratch — a challenge that became even more daunting when the implosion of Enron put corporate-governance legislation on the committee’s fast track.
Haines had already experienced the unique pressures and joys of ground-up staffing when Michael Boland and Peter Madigan recruited him to serve as chief operating officer of what became the successful consulting firm Boland & Madigan. Similarly, Haines spoke of applying lessons learned from his time with Oxley to his new job at Buchanan Ingersoll, where he started less than one month ago.
“The [House] Banking Committee,” which had been Financial Services’ predecessor, “was thought of as a hard committee to get legislation through, hard to deal with,” Haines said. “Part of the challenge for [Oxley] was creating a new culture on the committee.”
The culture on Capitol Hill changed irrevocably during the committee’s first year, forcing Haines to adapt on the fly and shepherd complicated legislation in record time. The USA Patriot Act took just 40 days to turn over, Haines recalled, much of it spent holed up in the secret Senate hideaway of Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D-Md.) at the height of the capital’s anthrax scare.
Despite the bipartisan consensus that smoothed the measure’s path to passage and helped the first version of the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act sail through, the Enron crisis left the two chambers divided on how to reform corporate accounting standards. Haines was unsure about how to forge a compromise that both Sarbanes and Oxley could work with, until he turned on his car radio one day to find out that telecom behemoth WorldCom had fallen into bankruptcy.
“I was driving to work that morning and knew we would have a bill in the next week or two weeks,” Haines said. “Enron was complicated. … WorldCom was simple.”
The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 mandated sweeping changes in the financial management of publicly traded companies and helped spur a revival of the recession-tossed markets.
These days, Haines relies on a simple rebuttal when corporate clients mutter about Sarbanes-Oxley’s rigorous requirements: “What was their stock price on the day the bill was signed into law, versus what it is today?” Haines said he likes to ask.
Now that Congress has returned to a tense debate over whether legislation can cure spreading scandal, lobbyists have taken to comparing post-Abramoff lobbying reform to Sarbanes-Oxley. K Street fixtures as highly placed as U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Donohue have counseled Congress not to react with a draconian series of new limits, warning that a Sarbanes-Oxley-esque backlash could ensue.
Haines made a less prophetic argument against restrictive new lobbying and ethics rules still under consideration. Lobbyists serve as Congress’s pipeline to the public, he said.
“Members of Congress elected by the government need to actually be talked to by the public. It’s tough enough to get into Congress already because of all the security,” he joked.
Haines did not deflect questions about his difficult January, preferring to emphasize the upside of Alexander Strategy’s sudden fall. Being so closely identified with ‘DeLay Inc.,’ as the network of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) was known, helped Haines discover who his real friends were.
“I’ve had sunnier months,” he said, marveling at “how many people you’ll never expect will reach out to you. And there are always people you think are your friends who never return your phone calls.”