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Cantor’s K Street value: Off the charts

Greg Nash

How much is a House majority leader worth to K Street?

That’s the unprecedented calculation headhunters for the influence industry scrambled to make Wednesday in the wake of Rep. Eric Cantor’s (R-Va.) shocking primary defeat to Dave Brat.

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The loss instantly catapulted Cantor to the top of the list of prized recruits for trade associations and law firms in Washington.

Headhunters said the GOP leader would be welcomed with open arms — and a hefty payday — should he decide to leave politics for a new life in the private sector.

“I think Eric Cantor, given his experience and depth and breadth of his relationships — if he decides to go into the field of advocacy would be a highly-prized ‘get,’ if you will,” said Nels Olson, the head of the Washington office for Korn Ferry. “It will take a while for the ramifications to settle.”

Cantor on Wednesday announced he plans to step down from his leadership position at the end of July, setting off a scramble for the No. 2 job in the conference.

While Cantor vowed to serve out the rest of his term, he won’t have long to figure out his next move. Most observers expect him to maintain a high-profile role in politics, even if it’s from an office suite downtown.

“He wasn’t looking to hang up his spurs anytime soon, but this forces him to take a break, take a pause,” said Julian Ha, a partner at the executive search and consulting firm Heidrick & Struggles. “But I would be surprised if he didn’t re-emerge in some capacity of influence.”

“He didn’t expect this, and he may not have a plan yet, quite frankly,” Ha added. “He’s only 51, so he has a lot of runway. I wouldn’t count him out.”

Cantor has more going for him than just his credentials: Between his leadership PAC and his campaign committee, the Virginia Republican has more than $2 million that he can use to support state and federal candidates. 

However, when all is said and done, he might have less than that amount, said Joshua Rosenstein, a partner at Sandler, Reiff, Lamb, Rosenstein & Birkenstock. The candidate’s committee must refund any money to donors that had been designated for the general election.

Some politicians keep active leadership PACs even after they’re gone from Congress, Rosenstein said.

While the GOP leader has a wide range of options, the job outlook for members of “Cantorland” isn’t as bright.

The value of Cantor staffers on K Street has taken a hit, several industry experts told The Hill, since they would not longer bring ties to a powerful sitting member of Congress.

Still, headhunters said most firms would be eager to add members of Cantor’s team to their roster.

“They still have connections with the leadership that’s not going anywhere,” said Ivan Adler, a principal at The McCormick Group. “Being in leadership means you know the entire caucus; that’s something that’s really important. Those relationships don’t go away because your boss is not there.”

Another expert said Cantor staffers “will be fine” in the job market.

“Those lobbyists who used to work for Cantor, we might expect their salaries to go down, but they still have more value than a former staffer to a back-bench member,” said Tim LaPira, an assistant professor of political science at James Madison University who studies the lobbying industry.

A number of Cantor staffers had already decamped for Washington law and lobby firms in recent years.

Kyle Nevins left his job as Cantor’s deputy chief of staff last year to become a principal at K Street powerhouse Capitol Counsel. His 12-month “cooling off” period, which had prevented him from lobbying the House, recently expired.

Shimon “Shimmy” Stein served as Cantor’s senior policy adviser and a chief liaison between the majority leader’s office, Republican leadership and several committees. He now works as a principal at Blank Rome and has a blue-chip client roster that includes Expedia; Comcast; Best Buy; Blackstone and the Smoke Free Alternatives Trade Association, a group that represents the e-cigarette industry.

Another Cantor veteran, John Emling, joined Citigroup as co-head of federal government affairs in 20011. Mike Ference, Cantor’s former director for strategic development and senior adviser, has been lobbying with Shockey Scofield Solutions for clients such as General Motors, the United Launch Alliance, the National Association of Broadcasters, T-Mobile and Halliburton. 

It remains to be seen whether Cantor might get into the lobbying game himself.

There’s precedent for that move, as at least four ex-party leaders have registered to lobby, if only temporarily, in recent years.

Most prominently, former Democratic leader Dick Gephardt (Mo.) founded a consulting firm, the Gephardt Group, not long after retiring from Congress in 2005. Two years later, he registered to lobby and formed an advocacy arm called Gephardt Group Government Affairs.  

Gephardt’s lobbying operation brought in nearly $4.8 million last year from clients including Google, General Electric, Boeing and UnitedHealth Group.

Former Republican Minority Leader Rob Michel joined K Street law and lobby firm Hogan Lovells, then named Hogan & Hartson, after leaving Congress in 1995. He did not register to lobby, however, until 1999. 

Other House Republican leaders such as Tom DeLay (Texas) and Dick Armey (Texas) registered to lobby only temporarily. 

Delay has a strategic consulting firm called First Principles and lobbied for Argus Global regarding “anti-sex trafficking” issues from 2012 to the middle of last year. 

Armey, who took an $8 million consulting deal to leave the conservative organization FreedomWorks in 2012, lobbied for law firm DLA Piper from 2004 to 2009.

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