Job market cools for former lawmakers

Job market cools for former lawmakers

Lawmakers serving their final days in Congress might have a tough time landing a new job on K Street, headhunters for the lobbying industry tell The Hill.

The current job market in the influence industry is the toughest in years, several headhunters said, with former lawmakers facing stiff competition for a limited number of high-ranking positions.


“The music is on hold right now, in terms of the big jobs,” said Julian Ha, who leads the government affairs and trade association practices at Heidrick & Struggles, an executive search and consulting firm.

At least 58 lawmakers will be leaving Congress in January, either because they lost their reelection races or have decided to retire.

Many of the former members are expected to make a beeline to lobby firms and trade associations, where their experience in Congress is prized.

But openings are slim this year in the upper echelons of the association world, where lawmakers frequently land big paychecks after leaving public service.

“Finding a job as a former member of Congress is increasingly competitive and, given this year, with the sheer number of retirements and election results, it will be even more so,” said Nels Olson, a vice chairman at Korn Ferry and the co-leader of its board and CEO services practice.

Chris Jones, the managing partner of CapitolWorks, said lobby firms are taking stock of the broader business climate.

“K Street is probably reassessing what their year looked like and what they’re going to need on behalf of their clients,” Jones said.

While there are laws in place that require lawmakers to have a “cooling off” period before actively lobbying on behalf of clients, many former members are hired to provide law and lobby firms with behind-the-scenes advice.

Historically, about half of former lawmakers go back to work on policy issues after leaving Capitol Hill, either as a registered lobbyist or an unregistered consultant, says Tim LaPira, an associate professor of political science at James Madison University who studies lobbying and the “revolving door.”

LaPira said his research shows that former lawmakers only make up about 1 percent of all lobbyists, however.

After former House Majority Leader Eric CantorEric Ivan CantorBottom line Virginia GOP candidates for governor gear up for convention Cantor: 'Level of craziness' in Washington has increased 'on both sides' MORE (R-Va.) was ousted in a primary earlier this year, he headed to investment bank Moelis & Co., despite not having a Wall Street pedigree. While the firm plans to use him in its New York office to advise clients and help it compete for business, the bank announced that Cantor would also be helping to set up a Washington outpost.

“They’re the tip of the spear, they’re at the top of the pyramid,” LaPira said of former lawmakers. “They’re likely being hired for their contacts and their knowledge of process, rather than just their policy expertise.”

Retiring Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) has already secured his next gig.

Last month, the American Association for the Advancement of Science announced that Holt would become its newest chief executive in February, replacing longtime leader Alan I. Leshner. The job previously came with a salary and benefits valued at a total of about $1 million, according to tax forms filed by the group.

Holt’s experience in Congress could be a boon for the group as it seeks to protect spending on scientific research and education that could be on the chopping block next year.

For other lawmakers looking to move into the private sector, there are still some top positions available.

Jobs are open at the National Health Council, the American Hospital Association, the American Fuel and Petrochemical Association and multimillion-dollar philanthropic organization CARE USA, among others.

But former lawmakers might need more than just their resume to beat the competition, headhunters say.

“Just because you’re a former lawmaker doesn’t mean you’re on the top of the slate of candidates for a trade association anymore,” Ha says.

Although the job prospects are thin in the corporate world, K Street law and lobby firms could roll out the red carpet for some high-profile names, such as former House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.).

“This Congress is going to do something about the tax situation, and that’s going to be the best news for K Street in a long time. There really hasn’t been a major legislative food fight in awhile, and everyone’s affected by taxes and will need to have someone at the table,” said Ivan Adler, a principal at the McCormick Group.

The November elections also handed defeats to several Democratic senators — Mark PryorMark Lunsford PryorBottom line Everybody wants Joe Manchin Cotton glides to reelection in Arkansas MORE (Ark.), Kay HaganKay Ruthven HaganInfighting grips Nevada Democrats ahead of midterms Democrats, GOP face crowded primaries as party leaders lose control Biden's gun control push poses danger for midterms MORE (N.C.), Mark UdallMark Emery UdallKennedy apologizes for calling Haaland a 'whack job' OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Haaland courts moderates during tense confirmation hearing | GOP's Westerman looks to take on Democrats on climate change | White House urges passage of House public lands package Udalls: Haaland criticism motivated 'by something other than her record' MORE (Colo.) and Mark BegichMark Peter BegichAlaska Senate race sees cash surge in final stretch Alaska group backing independent candidate appears linked to Democrats Sullivan wins Alaska Senate GOP primary MORE (Alaska), among them — whom headhunters say will be valuable because of their reputation as being dealmakers with Republicans.

Still, with the GOP set to take over both chambers of Congress, most firms are looking to bulk up on the red side of the aisle.

“There are a lot of firms that are talking to Republicans now,” Adler said.

Still, Adler said firms are always looking for Democrats — particularly ones who could come in handy in 2016.

“If they happen to have Hillary [Clinton] connections, all that much better,” he said.