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Big names free to lobby in 2016

Big names free to lobby in 2016
© Greg Nash

Welcome to 2016: You are now free to lobby.

That’s the state of play for a new crop of former House lawmakers and senior aides who, beginning in January, are permitted to contact their former colleagues on behalf of their new employers.

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Lobbying bans for members of the House who lost election or retired in 2014 have officially expired. Roughly one-third of the former lawmakers in that group have gone on to work for companies, universities, trade associations or firms that lobby the federal government.

Former Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), Lee Terry (R-Neb.), Jim MoranJames (Jim) Patrick MoranDems face close polls in must-win Virginia Billionaire Trump donor hires lobbyists to help vets Lawmakers: Chaffetz has a point on housing stipend MORE (D-Va.) and Dave Camp (R-Mich.) are among the lawmakers who have passed the cooling-off period for lobbying.

Some of the former lawmakers are now at boutique law and lobby firms. Waxman joined his son’s firm, Waxman Strategies, while McKeon formed his own shop, the McKeon Group.

Others landed at larger organizations, with Moran going to the law firm McDermott Will & Emery and Camp joining -PricewaterhouseCoopers 

Waxman, McKeon, Terry and Moran each told The Hill that they plan to register to lobby for clients. Camp said through a company spokesman that he “has no immediate plans to begin lobbying.” 

Overall, of the 58 House members who retired, resigned or lost reelection in 2014,  roughly 19 have gone to work for an entity that has business before the government.

Craig Holman, a government affairs lobbyist at watchdog group Public Citizen, calls the “revolving door” between government and the private sector one of “the most pernicious problems when it comes to influence peddling on Capitol Hill.”

Ethics rules prohibit senior aides and former members of Congress from lobbying their former colleagues for one year. Former senators are prohibited for two years. 

“It is inherently bad to see members of Congress so quickly go to the private sector,” Holman said. “The one-year cooling off period is not long enough.”

Holman argues that a cooling-off period of least two years — a full House election cycle — would be better. Longer periods, such as five years, would be ideal, he says, but are not politically realistic.

Several of the former members who spoke with The Hill said they have refrained from speaking with former colleagues since leaving office, even about matters that did not pertain to business.

“I have been talking to some [members] this last week and I told them, that’s the thing you miss the most about Congress, not being able to talk to your friends,” said McKeon, who spent 22 years on Capitol Hill.

“I really avoided even seeing them because I didn’t even want the appearance” of impropriety, he said. 

Terry, who was defeated by a Democrat in 2014, is now at law firm Kelley, Drye & Warren. He has kept in touch with his old friends while being careful not to slip up and talk business.

“Over dinner, they would chat, and I would have to either shut up or have to go to the bathroom or something to make sure we didn’t talk about policy,” he said.

Former lawmakers are increasingly taking positions at law and lobby firms that do not have a direct lobbying role, taking on titles such as “senior adviser” while working with clients behind the scenes.

“Some pretend they don’t lobby, and just develop a strategy and then they … tell other lobbyists how to go out and make the case,” said Waxman, a former chairman of the House Energy and Commerce and Government Oversight committees, of the so-called shadow lobbyists.

Former lawmakers are not restricted in any way from advocating before the executive branch, something Waxman has done since joining his son’s firm last year.

“I don’t think there’s anyone more effective than I am when it comes to talking to the administration or members of Congress,” Waxman said.

Some lawmakers have gravitated toward other advisory roles. Former House Majority Leader Eric CantorEric Ivan CantorScalise allies upset over Ryan blindside on McCarthy endorsement 2018 will test the power of political nobodies Ryan signals support for McCarthy as next GOP leader MORE (R-Va.) joined the investment bank Moelis & Co., which has no lobbyists, as a vice chairman and managing director. 

Former Rep. Steven Horsford (D-Nev.) returned to Nevada-based public relations firm R&R Resources, which is known for the “What Happens Here, Stays Here” tourism campaign for Las Vegas. Horsford started his career at the firm before entering politics.

Other ex-lawmakers have taken the helm of major organizations. Former Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.), a research physicist, was named the CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, while former Rep. Jim GerlachJames (Jim) GerlachPa. GOP 'disappointed' by rep retiring after filing deadline Pennsylvania Republican Costello won't seek reelection Republican Pa. congressman won't seek reelection: report MORE (R-Pa.) became the chief executive of the Business Industry Political Action Committee (BIPAC). 

BIPAC, which helps businesses navigate the political process, does not do any direct advocacy with Congress, but Gerlach told The Hill it wants to become more involved in elections by bolstering its political donations and offering business owners a roster of endorsements.

The organization bills itself as nonpartisan, and Gerlach says he hopes to begin “hosting fundraisers for different candidates” who are friendly to the business community and allow them to “leverage our endorsement to help them raise money.”

Still, law and lobby shops remain the most common destination for former lawmakers.

Former Reps. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) and Jim MathesonJames (Jim) David MathesonTrump's budget targets affordable, reliable power Work begins on T infrastructure plan New president, new Congress, new opportunity MORE (D-Utah) landed at Squire Patton Boggs, which has a lobby shop led by former Sens. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and John Breaux (D-La.).

The Louisiana-based shop the Picard Group hired former Rep. Rodney Alexander (R-La.), and Rep. Robert Andrews (D-N.J.) went to Dilworth Paxon.

Many of the former members say they will be working on the same issues that they did in public service.

Moran, the former Virginia congressman, said that he would be selective about his clients “because I’ve established a certain set of principles and values, and there are some organizations that conflict with my values.”

He singled out the National Rifle Association and Martin Shkreli, the pharmaceutical executive who raised the price of an essential medication by 4,000 percent, as the types of clients he would never take. 

“There are probably some that are not as clear cut. But I’m not going to lobby on behalf of a company that’s been dumping toxic chemicals and hiding it,” he said. “Life’s too short to defend people whose actions are indefensible.”