Business & Lobbying

Suddenly, ‘Schumerland’ is the place to be

Getty Images

The anointment of Sen. Charles Schumer as the next Democratic leader is creating new royalty on K Street.
At least 30 former aides to the New York Democrat now work in the influence industry, according to a review by The Hill, and their stock is soaring now that Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is preparing to hand him the leadership reins.
“They’re the new ‘it-animal’ in the forest and they also happen to work on the most important street in the forest — K Street and Pennsylvania Avenue,” said Ivan Adler, a principal at The McCormick Group.

“He will be a very active participant in leadership, so that it’s never bad to know a member who is very active. Schumer may be the quintessential high-profile member.”
Prominent lobbyists in “Schumerland” include Erick Mullen, a managing director at Mercury; Jim Kessler, a co-founder and the senior vice president for policy at the centrist think tank Third Way; Sean Sweeney at The Messina Group and Izzy Klein, a principal at the Podesta Group.
Other Schumer alums on K Street include Nicole Di Resta, senior vice president of Cassidy & Associates; David Hantman, the head of global public policy at Airbnb; Carmencita Whonder of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck; Jason Abel, an of counsel at Steptoe & Johnson, among many others.
Schumer’s ascension to Democratic leader is putting his current and former aides in high demand, with corporations, trade groups and advocacy organizations seeking a connection to him.
“In big deals and small deals — at some point, these things all get done in a small circle of people,” said a former leadership aide-turned-lobbyist. “A lot of the downtown world is about coverage — you want to know who is going in the last room [of negotiations] on any kind of effort.”
“You’ve got to have some [of those] relationships so you know what’s going on behind the curtain before the issue gets there,” the lobbyist, who asked for anonymity in order to speak freely, added.
Schumer still has roughly 20 months before the Democratic caucus casts their ballots for leader, but he appears to have the position all but wrapped up.
Reid endorsed Schumer to succeed him when he announced his retirement last month, and potential rivals for the position have said they won’t challenge him for the job. With the election map in 2016 tilted toward Democrats, it’s possible that Schumer’s leadership of the caucus will make him majority leader in 2017.
Former aides to the senator said they began to receive phone calls from current and prospective clients almost immediately after Reid announced his retirement plans.
What everyone wanted to know, lobbyists said, was how the power shift would change the Senate landscape.
“There was a lot of that activity over the last week and I think that folks are looking at what the Senate is going to be like in 18 months or so,” said Abel, who last worked for Schumer in 2011 while on the Senate Rules Committee.
“Certainly there was some interest in figuring out what will be the agenda and how will a change of leadership impact that agenda.”
Lobbyists are generally optimistic about Schumer’s move into the leadership position, viewing him as a pragmatic dealmaker who can work with Republicans.
Schumer will be good for “people downtown that want to get things done,” said Steve Elmendorf of the powerhouse lobby shop Elmendorf | Ryan.
“They may not agree with him all the time,” he adds, “but he’s a high energy, high activity legislator who wants to do things.”
Further endearing himself to K Street, Schumer is known for having an open-door policy at his office, and has no qualms about taking meetings with people who may not be aligned with him on an issue.
During the debate over the Affordable Care Act, Kelly Bingel — a partner at Mehlman Castagnetti Rosen Bingel & Thomas and former aide to ex-Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) — recalled bringing the leader of a healthcare company in for a meeting in Schumer’s Senate hideaway office in the early evening.
The senator also has reputation for working long hours. Former aides also told The Hill that it is not unusual for staff meetings to begin after 7 p.m., or to receive an early-morning call from the senator.
“He gets a lot of flack for being a talker, but he’s clearly an amazing listener,” Clare Coleman, the president and CEO of the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association, who worked for Schumer while he served in the House.
Schumer is also known as an aggressive fundraiser, typically raising many times more than the average senator. He raised more than $5.4 million for the 2014 midterms, according to federal records, despite not being up for reelection.
During the last three election cycles combined, he received $7.5 million from individuals and political action committees in the financial services sector — a major industry within his state. Lobbyists, lawyers and firms donated about $3.4 million throughout the same period, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
The senator has been criticized from the left as being too close to Wall Street, but advocates in the financial services industry are quick to note that he has often voted against them, including with support for the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul and opposition to a housing reform bill.
“People have been jumping to the conclusion that [his rise] is good for Wall Street. I don’t know that this is really the case,” said one financial services lobbyist who was not authorized to speak on the record.
That lobbyist added, however, that if Schumer becomes leader “he’ll have some more running room” in certain areas.
Schumer is known for having broad knowledge of policy, as reflected in the positions now held by his former staffers. They include Ipyana Spencer, a vice president at United Health Group; Eric Hauser, a strategic advisor and director of communications at AFL-CIO; Jessica Straus, an in-house lobbyist at Dish Network; and Debra Barrett, a senior vice president at Teva Pharmaceuticals.
“He will be a strong advocate and central to any policy decision in the next Congress,” Abel said.

Tags Charles Schumer Harry Reid
See all Hill.TV See all Video