Former White House aides find success on K Street

President Bush’s former congressional lobbyists who left the White House earlier this year to lobby for the private sector have quickly landed lucrative Fortune 500 clients.

Six top White House legislative-affairs aides, including David Hobbs, who was head of Bush’s office of legislative affairs, have moved on to K Street since the end of last year. More than a dozen aides have cycled through the White House office of legislative affairs since 2003, when Bush’s first pick, Nicholas Calio, left to run Citigroup’s Washington office.

The aides in the White House office of legislative affairs, which shepherds the presidential agendas through the Congress, are hired from within Congress or from the lobbying world. But those who move on to the White House rarely return to Capitol Hill.

The exodus of White House aides can be explained by the regular turnover after an election, but there is no right time to leave the White House.

“It all depends on why you came and why you’re leaving,” said Paul Light, a professor of public service at New York University and an adviser to the Presidential Appointee Initiative.

“To the extent some wish to cash in on their connections to get through the one-year lobbying ban on lobbying their former colleagues, they are going to have to leave sooner than later,” he added.

Joel Johnson, a lobbyist with the Glover Park Group and a former top aide to President Clinton, agreed.

“There’s not a perfect time to leave,” he said. “I think the value of that experience transcends the moment in time that you leave.”

Hobbs, a former senior aide to former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas), stepped down late last year. He has set up his own lobbying shop, rented prime office space at 101 Constitution Ave. and landed five big clients: the National Cable Telecommunications Association, Anheuser Busch, Johnson & Johnson, Honeywell International and Comcast Corp., according to Senate disclosure records.

While no payments were listed on the forms, corporations and their trade associations typically pay thousands of dollars a month to lobbyists for political and legislative advice. Hobbs had earned $157,000 as an assistant to the president.

He said he has not hired any partners yet.

In the office of legislative affairs, Hobbs had three “inside deputies,” who were responsible for troubleshooting within the administration to help Hobbs’s front-line lobbyists.

Eric Pelletier, an inside deputy, is now senior manager of government relations at General Electric.

Chris Cox, who had been a special assistant to the president for legislative affairs and chief of staff to Rep. Dave Rogers (R-Mich.), joined Navigators.

“What we were looking for was someone with fresh legs in the House,” said Jim Pitts, one of the firm’s founding partners. “Across [the House] rank and file, we needed depth.”

The hire has paid off, Pitts said. AgustaWestland, an Italian company contracted by the U.S. Navy to build the next fleet of Marine One presidential helicopters, has hired Navigators to help them on Capitol Hill. The company is the largest helicopter manufacturer in the world in terms of revenue.

Hobbs’s other assistants have joined prominent companies and firms. Dan Keniry joined TIAA-CREF as a vice president for federal relations; Amy Jensen Cunniffe, who spent seven years working for House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), works for Quinn Gillespie; and Ginger Loper is a vice president with Timmons & Co.

Clay Sell, former chief of staff to Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) and Senate Appropriations Committee clerk, was confirmed as the deputy secretary of energy in March.

On the White House’s political and communications side, Quinn Gillespie hired Jim Morrell, a former communications aide, and Koch Industries tapped Matt Schlapp, the former White House political director, to become its executive director of federal relations at Koch Industries.

Clinton’s legislative-affairs aides made quick transitions, too. Howard Paster, Clinton’s first chief, returned to Hill & Knowlton. Clinton’s other top lobbyists, Pat Griffin, John Hilley, Larry Stein and Chuck Brain shuttled between the Senate and K Street.