Defeats add to talent pool for lobby firms

Several lawmakers who went down in defeat on election night could find a second act in Washington as lobbyists.

Several Blue Dogs, the ever-shrinking centrist Democratic faction in the House, lost their reelection bids, but their brand is strong on K Street. Lobby firms prize the conservative-leaning Democrats for their reputation as dealmakers who can get results. 

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Ivan Adler, a principal at the McCormick Group, said lawmakers with bipartisan credentials go for top dollar in the influence industry.

“Those members who are seen [as] friendlier to business will have a much easier time getting hired by these firms than others,” said Adler, a headhunter for law and lobby firms. “The game is to get clients. You’re going to have to find people who can reach across the aisle in order to service them.”

Adler mentioned lawmakers like Rep. Ben Chandler (D-Ky.), a member since 2004 who went down in defeat on Tuesday, as a lobbying prospect. Other Blue Dogs who came up short on Election Day included Reps. Leonard Boswell (D-Iowa) and Larry Kissell (D-N.C.). 

“Democrats that have come from a red state and Blue Dogs will continue to be a prized commodity,” said Chris Jones, managing partner at CapitolWorks.

Jones said Senate Democratic staff, especially from leadership, would command a good price in the market — and the same applies to Republicans with connections to House leadership. And with Congress remaining split between parties, lobby teams will need to have both Democrats and Republicans to succeed.

“I believe it does emphasize that any lobbying shop or corporate governmental relations shop will need to have a bipartisan team,” Jones said.

Headhunters estimate that a former House member can expect a starting $500,000 annual salary on K Street, while a former senator can fetch $1 million per year.

A number of defeated Republicans could also be in high demand, with Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) near the top of the list. 

“If he wanted to go lobby, I think he’s gold-plated,” Adler said. “Someone with Massachusetts interests should be looking at him.”

Lawmakers with name recognition like Brown can bring prestige to a firm that a lowly staffer can’t match.

“Staff do not, however, usually have the star power to attract and impress clients that their bosses have, or have the ability to pick up a phone and get through to sitting representatives and senators in a comparable way,” said Larry Latourette, executive director of the partner practice at Lateral Link.

Though a number of lawmakers who lost their election bids will likely enter the lobbyist pool, several senators who were already known to be leaving Capitol Hill next year — including Sens. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) — remain the most coveted prospects for K Street.

The economy remains tough for lobby firms, so they’ll have to weigh the publicity they would get from hiring an ex-lawmaker against the likely returns.

“There is a tension, however, between the political swat you gain after multiple terms and the length of time you can be effective because of age. In general, the lawmakers with the most juice also are the ones with the shortest shelf life. Thus, firms and companies have to make a benefit-cost analysis with respect to hiring — balancing influence, longevity and drive,” Latourette said.

Former lawmakers are always highly valued by lobby firms, but regulatory experts have seen their prospects rise with President Obama’s reelection. The healthcare and financial services reform laws are now expected to stay in place — bringing more rules and regulations that will spur lobbying work.

“The election has solidified the job prospects of the people working on the regulatory side, especially when it comes to ObamaCare and Dodd-Frank. Those laws are here to stay,” Adler said. “K Street is going to hire people who can play goalie. They are going to have to be able to stop a lot of pucks.” 

— This story was updated at 11:24 a.m.