Newly unemployed lawmakers buzzing about million-dollar lobbying jobs

A post-election scramble is underway for lucrative positions at some of Washington’s premier trade groups.

The chief executive slots come with six- and-seven figure salaries, and enter the market at a time when freshly retired lawmakers are looking for new employment. Headhunters say former members of Congress have been buzzing about the jobs — and for good reason.

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Being the top dog at a prominent business group can have all the trappings of Congress: a full-time staff, juice as a D.C. insider, and the chance to be your own boss.

"Members like to be in charge. They want the CEO job," said Julian Ha, practice leader for government affairs at the executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles.

Some of the jobs in the mix include positions that opened up just this week, including at the American Gaming Association and the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (SIFMA). Other major jobs include the top spots at the American Hotel & Lodging Association, the American Wind Energy Association and the Fertilizer Institute.

There is plenty of talent for the groups to choose from. More than 80 House members and senators were defeated in their election bids or retired last Congress, and many of them are eager to continue their careers in Washington.

“Given the number of members of Congress retiring this year, there's a great deal of interest on their part in these association roles and wanting to stay in Washington,” said Nels Olson of Korn/Ferry International.

Korn/Ferry is an executive search firm and is looking for candidates for the American Gaming Association and the American Hotel & Lodging Association, among others.

The Fertilizer Institute has hired Spencer Stuart to search for its new leader. SIFMA hasn't hired an executive search firm yet, but will make a decision about it in the coming weeks, according to a spokesman for the financial services group.

The connections that ex-lawmakers can bring to a trade group make them appealing candidates.

“They are attractive. Depending on the association and their needs, they can bring a big name and immediately leverage their Hill networks and maybe even senior government contacts to help the association,” Ha said. “Members can be very valuable, but associations need to think through their needs and ask what they can bring.”

The financial services lobby SIFMA is among the groups that could give recently retired lawmakers a look, though the group could also promote from within.

Former Rep. Ken Bentsen (D-Texas) is considered a leading candidate for SIFMA’s top job, according to a spokesman for the group. Bentsen already helps lead lobbying for SIFMA and will be its acting president and CEO after current head Tim Ryan leaves next month.

The American Gaming Association also plans to consider former lawmakers for the executive suite, along with other individuals from inside and outside of Washington, according to an official with the group.

Both SIFMA and the casino lobby jobs could bring serious paydays for the lucky hires.

At SIFMA, Ryan earned $2.9 million in compensation in 2010, according to the group’s tax form for that year. Frank Fahrenkopf, who is leaving the gaming lobby in June, earned $1.9 million that same year.

Other trade groups’ pay packages for their chief executives aren’t as hefty, but are still substantial.

As head of the wind energy group, Denise Bode took in close to $550,000 in compensation for 2010. Joe McInerney, whose contract is up in September for the hotel industry trade group, earned more than $440,000 in compensation for 2010. Ford West, who is leaving the Fertilizer Institute at the end of 2013, earned more than $400,000 in compensation for 2010.

Working for any of the trade groups would be a big pay hike for ex-lawmakers. House members and senators earned $174,000 in annual salary last year.

The American Gaming Association job is expected to attract intense interest from ex-members. The chance to be the casinos’ point person in Washington and make regular trips to Las Vegas could be a major selling point.

“You get to do the Vegas thing. That's cool,” said Ivan Adler, a principal at the McCormick Group. “Casinos are sexy. That's the ‘it’ job in Washington at the moment. The Strip is a lot better place to hang out than on Wall Street.”