By Kevin Bogardus - 06/26/13 09:00 AM EDT
“Boehnerland” is hearing the call of K Street.
Lobby shops and trade associations have placed high value on senior aides that they would love to lure away from Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) office, according to lobbyists and headhunters interviewed by The Hill.
“I expect you will see some defections in the next six months. Now is a good time to cash in,” said Larry Latourette, a principal for the partner practice at Lateral Link.
The payday could be substantial for Boehner staffers willing to make the jump: Senior leadership aides could draw starting annual salaries of $200,000 to $400,000, according to headhunters’ estimates.
Boehner has said he expects to remain as Speaker after the coming midterm elections, but he’s lost some key people in the meantime.
Several high-ranking Boehner aides have departed, including Barry Jackson, a former chief of staff for the Speaker who left last year to later become a strategic adviser at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck.
Another top Boehner aide, Brett Loper, decamped this week for a job with American Express.
“Leadership staff are always in demand given their depth of contacts and knowledge of the current policy debates. The question is always — can they make the transition to the corporate world and the culture?” said Nels Olson, who leads Korn/Ferry International’s Washington office and government affairs practice.
Aides to House leadership are considered valuable assets for their knowledge of the lower chamber’s players and process, as well as their battle-hardened experience in policy debates.
Asked to name the most prized recruits from Boehner’s inner circle, lobbyists and headhunters consistently mentioned Mike Sommers, the Speaker’s chief of staff, and Dave Schnittger, a deputy chief of staff.
Another Boehner aide that has attracted interest from the private sector is Anne Thorsen, the Speaker’s floor director. Several of Boehner’s policy aides, including newly promoted policy director Dave Stewart, are also seen as top-shelf recruits.
“The lobbying community prizes capable policy aides in the top leadership offices, especially those who have strong relationships and experience working with key committees that handle major issues,” said Ralph Hellmann, a partner in the Lugar Hellmann Group and a former senior aide to ex-Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.).
Along with Jackson and Loper, other senior Boehner aides have recently joined K Street.
Emily Porter, a policy aide to the Speaker, went to The Nickles Group earlier this year, and George Rogers, another policy aide, joined Wexler & Walker Public Policy Associates in December.
Despite the list of departures, several lobbyists doubted that an exodus from the Speaker’s office is imminent.
Many of Boehner’s aides have been with him for years, and are unlikely to leave his side while he remains in Congress, they said.
“Boehner has an incredibly stable core of senior staff that hasn’t changed since he became [House majority] leader in ’06. I would be very surprised if any of them left anytime soon,” said one Republican lobbyist.
One former Boehner aide said the loyalty among his staff runs deep.
“I’d be willing to [say] that more of these top staff stay with John through this [election] cycle and another should he remain Speaker. Some have been with him since birth and are unlikely to make a move until John decides to go,” the former aide said.
That loyalty and closeness might keep those staffers in Boehner’s obit — but it also happens to be what K Street values the most.
“The Speaker tends to be the king of the forest. The closer the aide is to the king, the more powerful the aide tends to be on K Street,” said Ivan Adler, a principal at The McCormick Group. “Those aides have two of the three Ps down, which make folks on the Hill really valuable to the outside world. They know people and process, and some know the third, which is policy.”
Relocating to K Street can be an attractive option for Capitol Hill aides who grow tired of long hours and relatively low pay.
As staffers for one of the true powers in the nation’s capital, aides to Boehner will continue to command high interest and high salaries for the foreseeable future.
“Speaker Boehner still has a lot of cards to play and a lot of power and prestige in this town. So aides working for him have a lot of sway in Washington as well,” said Chris Jones with CapitolWorks.
“Now it seems like a good time to look around for opportunities, before we get to the midterms and then the next presidential election.”