GOP staffers seek to cash in as odds grow of Senate takeover

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Washington’s lobby firms are being inundated with phone calls and emails from GOP staffers looking to jump to the private sector if Republicans capture the Senate in November.

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With GOP odds of a takeover growing, high-ranking aides are checking in on their value “downtown” at law and lobby firms, where they could command salary offers of up to $500,000 per year.

“My phone is ringing, and my inbox is active,” said Rob Smith, the co-chair of Venable’s legislative practice group. “Not just staffers but soon-to-be former members, too.”

Several other Republican lobbyists told The Hill they are being approached by aides who are exploring their options and seeking advice about how and where to begin looking for jobs. Some firms said they are actively recruiting talent.

“We've got one guy we're courting pretty hard,” said one Republican lobbyist who didn’t want to speak publicly about hiring decisions. “We've made up our minds about who we want.”

But unfortunately for staffers looking to spin through the “revolving door,” lobby firms are operating in a buyer’s market, with many having already hired up in anticipation of an all-GOP Congress.

“Based on what was the conventional wisdom about what was supposed to happen,” Smith said, referring to previous GOP bids for the majority, “there are a lot of law firms and lobby shops that have talent ready to come off the bench for a Republican Senate.”

And while the GOP’s odds of retaking the Senate appear to be growing by the day, the change in power could be short-lived.

The Senate map for the 2016 is tipped in favor of Democrats, which has many firms skittish about investing too heavily in Republican staffers.

"My advice to corporations is that you don't make long-term business decisions based on a short-term political reality," said Nels Olson, the vice chairman and co-leader of Korn Ferry’s board and CEO services practice.

Still, headhunter Ivan Adler of The McCormick Group said Republican Senate staffers are clearly the new “‘it’ girls” in the lobbying world.

“I would guess that the hiring money is going to be wagered on Senate Republicans,” he said. “If anyone is going to hire anybody, it's going to be [them].”

Staffers looking to make the move into lobbying clearly have options.

The American Beverage Association, for example, recently posted a job listing for a vice president of government affairs — a new chief lobbyist. 

Squire Patton Boggs, meanwhile, is looking to hire following a merger that, among other defections, caused the firm to lose its entire health policy practice to competitor Akin Gump.

Former Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), who now controls the entire public policy practice at Squire Patton Boggs, expressed confidence that he and his lobbying partner, former Sen. John Breaux (D-La.), are well positioned if the Senate flips.

“We feel pretty good about our relationships on both sides of the aisle and both sides of the Capitol, but we are looking to strengthen our hands with House Republicans,” Lott said, adding that Republicans specializing in healthcare are particularly prized. 

Kirk Blalock, a partner at the all-GOP lobby shop Fierce, Isakowitz & Blalock, said his firm is “already well situated to manage the potential changes” that could come from a change in Senate power.

K Street’s fastest-growing firm, Capitol Counsel, would not say whether it is looking to hire in anticipation of a power shift in November.

“Capitol Counsel always goes for the best available person regardless of party,” said John Raffaelli, a founding partner at Capitol Counsel, who is a former Democratic staffer and campaign operative.

Capitol Counsel already has a number of prominent Republicans, including former Louisiana Rep. Jim McCrery, former Senate Republican leadership aide John O’Neill and former House leadership staffer Kyle Nevins. 

“In the Senate, the majority lobbyist gets the first look and hire. But you still need an opposition party lobbyist. That's why we chose to have a bipartisan shop,” Raffaelli told The Hill in an email. “For pure [Democratic] shops they will have to get used to being hired second and last to speak at client meetings.”

Several industry experts said the exodus of GOP staffers might happen closer to the November elections.

“This has been a recessive [legislative] recess — they've taken a long deep breath and used it to get out of town, both mentally and physically," Adler said. "After that, people will get more focused overall."

Loren Monroe, a principal at BGR Government Affairs, said he expects many staffers to end up staying put in Congress, at least temporarily. 

“Some of the more senior [Republican] policy advisors are very excited about the possibility of legislating, which they haven't been able to do for so long,” he said. “I'd be surprised that after waiting so long and working so hard that they would jump to the private sector.”