By Megan R. Wilson - 04/16/14 06:00 AM EDT
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp would be coveted by the private sector if he were to chose to head downtown after his retirement.
The Michigan Republican announced last month he would not run for another term, opening the possibility of a bidding war for a powerful chairman with deep knowledge of tax policy and the IRS code.
“Let’s put it this way, if he wants to go to K Street, he will be welcomed with open arms from one side of the street to the other,” said Ivan Adler, a principal at The McCormick Group.
“Having the background in taxes is like finding Willy Wonka’s golden ticket, and he’s got it,” Adler said.
The 12-term congressman has not said what he plans to do after leaving Congress, saying he remains focused on making the most of his final months with the gavel, even if his sweeping proposal for tax reform appears to have stalled.
“During the next nine months, I will redouble my efforts to grow our economy and expand opportunity for every American by fixing our broken tax code, permanently solving physician payments for seniors, strengthening the social safety net and finding new markets for U.S. goods and services,” Camp said in a statement announcing his retirement.
Still, among the class of lawmakers retiring at the end of the Congress, few could make a bigger splash on K Street than Camp.
“I’m sure his phone is ringing,” said Nels Olson, a vice chairman at Korn/Ferry International who runs the executive search firm’s Washington office.
Lawmakers in recent years have stuck around Washington after leaving office, gravitating to jobs “downtown” where their policy knowledge and congressional connections are prized.
More than one-third of the departing members from each of the last two sessions of Congress who reported finding a job have gone to work for law and lobby firms, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics and Remapping Debate.
The two former members who preceded Camp as the top Republican on the tax-writing committee, Jim McCrery of Louisiana and Bill Archer of Texas, went to the private sector after leaving Congress.
Archer is now a senior policy adviser at PricewaterhouseCoopers, while McCrery joined Capitol Counsel, one of the most successful lobby shops in Washington.
Even though Camp may not be ready to make a decision about his future, groups interested in hiring him have to act fast, according to headhunters.
“Now would be a good time to make your acquaintance known, if you were a firm. Members want to start talking now, because it can take a long time to make a deal,” Adler said.
“Honestly, it’s just like dating. It’s, ‘Hey, let’s have an ice cream sundae and if we like each other, we can have lunch. And if we really like each other, we can have dinner,’ ” he said.
Money might not be enough to lure the tax panel chairman to the private sector.
Although his congressional salary sits at $174,000 per year, Camp’s minimum net worth is nearly $6.4 million, according to federal disclosure forms analyzed by The Hill.
Tax lobbyists and former GOP staffers alike say they don’t know what Camp’s next step will be.
“I have been told that he doesn’t know what he wants to do,” one lobbyist said.
Camp might want to keep at least one foot in Washington to help continue the drive for tax reform, former aides and lobbyists say, despite the fact that both GOP leaders and members of the rank and file panned his tax reform draft.
His influence over that process would be blunted when he loses the Ways and Means Committee gavel. But Camp has also spent years seeking to overhaul the tax code, and many on K Street saw his draft proposal in February as an attempt to cement his own legacy when, and if, tax reform actually happens.
“I’m not sure whether it’s lobbying, or running an association, or serving on corporate boards,” the lobbyist said. “I could see him saying ‘Hey, I’ve got unfinished business,’ and wanting to stay involved in the tax reform debate.”
Besides his own personal wealth, there are other reasons to think that Camp might decide against jumping to K Street, including the fact that his family remains in Michigan.
Chris Jones, the managing partner of CapitolWorks, an executive search firm, said he could see Camp keeping one foot in Washington.
“He strikes me as someone who won’t go immediately full-throttle into lobbying. He seems thoughtful and deliberative of his value in the market,” Jones said. “He’s been around the block, he doesn’t want to be ‘that guy’ who goes right to K Street.”
“I think he will be a presence in Washington, but I think it will be more in the senior government relations advisory capacity.”
Olson said Camp is wise to keep his plans close to the vest.
“I think he’s smart to do it the way he’s done it, to give him some time to figure out what he’s going to do next,” Olson said.
Bernie Becker contributed.