Jack Quinn moves in on K Street

No longer a lawmaker but not quite a lobbyist, Jack Quinn keeps busy still.

The New York Republican retired from Congress in 2004 to join Cassidy & Associates as its president. But a federal law designed to slow Washington’s revolving door has kept him from lobbying his former colleagues this year.

Quinn, 54, has used the betwixt and between time to shift from making laws to building a practice at Cassidy, which is itself moving beyond its traditional focus on appropriations to policy areas.

“I don’t drink coffee, but I get it going,” Quinn said of his early arrival at work. “There is enough to do.”

As a congressman, Quinn flew home every weekend for 12 years. His weekends are largely free now, but he still travels extensively, courting clients rather than constituents.

He flew to Arkansas yesterday to pitch his new firm to a hospital considering looking for Washington representation. Last week, he was in Florida, making a similar case to a shipping company.

With his one-year prohibition on lobbying drawing to a close, Quinn has begun to register clients with the Senate and House. He represents BNSF Railway, Norfolk Southern and the Association of American Railroads.

Quinn’s duties included giving a speech at a railroad convention on the current political climate at the request of the railroads group. He spent more than an hour last week prepping another client for a meeting with the Federal Aviation Administration, a federal agency Quinn oversaw as a member of the House Transportation Committee.

There are nightly fundraisers to attend and weekly meetings on new business development to direct.

“One of the things that was an eye-opener for me is the amount of work that goes into preparing for a client and servicing a client and doing all of the background work and research work before you actually approach a member of the House or Senate and say, ‘We need your help,’” Quinn said.

In moving from Congress to K Street, Quinn is traveling a well-worn path. Sought for their relationships with policymakers and their expertise on the legislative process, lawmakers who retire are choosing to stay in Washington more than ever as the lobbying business booms.

According to a study by PoliticalMoneyLine, which tracks campaign and lobbying spending, 272 former members registered as lobbyists between 1995 to 2004. Quinn, a labor-friendly Republican who won by increasingly wide margins in a Democratic-leaning district, was just one of several high-profile additions to K Street last year.

Sen. John Breaux (D-La.) went to Patton Boggs. As he waits to operate as a pipeline for his clients, he has helped hedge funds predict how Congress is likely to act on market-moving legislation.

Sen. Don Nickles (R-Okla.) started his own firm with former staff members on the Senate Budget Committee, which he had served as chairman. Even as Nickles hasn’t been able to lobby his former colleagues, his firm is off to a fast start. It made more than $1 million in lobbying revenue in 2004. 

Before them, former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) retired and joined Piper Rudnick. Former House GOP Conference Chairman J.C. Watts (R-Okla.) started his own firm.

With Republicans such as Tom DeLay (R-Texas) and Randy Cunningham (R-Calif.) under an ethical cloud, House Democrats have pressed for more restrictions on lobbying. A bill backed by Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and others would extend the one-year prohibition on lobbying to two years to make the revolving door revolve more slowly.

But Quinn said he found nothing wrong with policymakers’ becoming advocates for private clients.

“I was never someone who thought ‘lobbyist’ was a dirty word,” he said.

Quinn said that ex-members are staying in Washington because the time demands of serving in Congress turn the Capitol into a second home for many. Members become as comfortable here as they are in their home districts.

The money isn’t bad either. Lawmakers with years of experience, particularly those who served on key committees, stand to double their annual salaries of $157,000 with a switch, say local headhunters, who help retiring members and staff members make the transition. Many ex-lawmakers and top staffers do much better than that.

Tall, gregarious and self-effacing, Quinn was plucked like a Hollywood starlet from relative obscurity as an English teacher in Orchard Park, N.Y., a Buffalo suburb — except that the slick talent scout in this case was the local Republican county chairman who called Quinn out of the blue to suggest he run for Hamburg town council.

“They were really hurting for candidates, evidently,” Quinn said. “I ran and won and loved it.”

Quinn then became town supervisor, a full-time job that required him to give up teaching and coaching in Orchard Park.

Nine years later, he jumped into a race for an open seat in Congress for the 27th District, which encompassed eastern and southern Buffalo and the city’s eastern and southern suburbs.

When Quinn ran in 1992, Buffalo’s grain mills and many of its steel plants had closed. But it remained a union town.

“It was about a 3-to-1 Democrat seat,” Quinn said. “People thought I was out of my mind.”

As several Democrats battled it out in the primary thinking that whoever won would win the seat, Quinn said, he quietly attended church bazaars, bingo halls and bowling alleys.

“That’s the way you do it in Buffalo,” he said. He won what the Almanac of American Politics called a “stunning upset.”

Quinn’s father was a union railroad engineer. As a teacher, Quinn too was a union member. Once in Congress, he took care to take pro-labor positions. He opposed the North American Free Trade Agreement and held monthly meetings with labor leaders back home to gauge their concerns.

If his first race was an upset, his last in 2002 was anything but: Quinn won with 69 percent of the vote.

Tired of traveling back and forth to his district every weekend, Quinn decided to retire, although he still regularly visits the Buffalo area and he and his wife, who only recently moved to Washington, keep a home in Hamburg.

One of Quinn’s focuses at Cassidy is helping to build a transportation practice along with Dawn Levy, a former tax counsel to Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), and Daniel McNamara, a former aide to ex-Sen. Dave Durenberger (R-Minn.).

Quinn is also heading a five-person team at Cassidy that identifies new business areas.

Cassidy, founded by former George McGovern aide Gerald Cassidy, once leaned Democratic and specialized in appropriations. But the firm has hired several Republicans in recent years as the GOP solidified its control of Washington.

In addition to Quinn, another high-profile hire was Gregg Hartley, former chief of staff to Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.).

Quinn said the firm is working to expand its federal marketing practice and courting corporate clients that have a number of interests on Capitol Hill.

“We realize the appropriations pie is getting smaller and smaller and more competitive,” Quinn said.

“There are a lot of lobbying firms out there. Every time there is a new cycle, a couple congressmen leave to form their own firm, so it’s getting more and more difficult,” he said.