Exiting lawmakers jockey for K Street perch

Greg Nash

Dozens of outgoing lawmakers are looking to make the jump to K Street after an election that saw a massive number of GOP retirements and a Democratic wave flip control of the House.

Lawmakers have long been coveted by lobby firms and business and trade groups for their connections and insider experience. But with a large turnover following the 115th Congress, the competition for prime spots could be fierce.

The jockeying has already begun with associations and firms sizing up retiring lawmakers for their accomplishments in Congress and their willingness to work hard and fit in on a new team.

{mosads}Some prominent names being eyed include outgoing Democratic Caucus Chairman Joseph Crowley, who lost in his primary to progressive rising star Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York.

Pennsylvania Republican Bill Shuster, former chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, is also on that list.

“Bill Shuster is a name that sometimes comes up … given his transportation background,” a recruiter told The Hill, adding that there was speculation he could have taken over at the Association of American Railroads. CEO Edward Hamberger announced his retirement in May but the association tapped Ian Jefferies, senior vice president, as its next chief.

Outgoing Rep. Barbara Comstock (R), who represents the Virginia suburbs of D.C., is seen as another potential K Street recruit.

“She has a reputation of being a hard worker,” the recruiter said.

One lawmaker has gotten an early start; Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-Kan.) has already launched her own lobbying firm, LJ Strategies LLC.

It’s a complicated dance for both sides as lawmakers look to find a new perch and K Street groups look for the right fit.

It’s not a game for everyone. Some lobbying shops and firms pass on hiring former lawmakers, preferring former senior Capitol Hill staffers to whom the halls of Congress are familiar territory. And outgoing lawmakers tend to favor firms that have historically hired from their ranks in the past.

Recruiters who spoke to The Hill noted that moving to K Street can be a big change for lawmakers. Lawmakers-turned-lobbyists who are willing to roll up their sleeves are seen as a rare find.

Former Rep. Vic Fazio (D-Calif.), a senior advisor at Akin Gump; former Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), senior counsel at Arnold & Porter; as well as former Sens. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and John Breaux (D-La.), now senior counsels at Squire Patton Boggs, are regularly seen working the halls of Congress.

{mossecondads}Another prominent name is Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl (R), who was at Covington & Burling but returned to the Senate to fill the seat left vacant by the death of his colleague Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). Kyl has not announced yet if he will return to K Street.

The main question before hiring a former lawmaker is “will they roll their sleeves up and really do the work that’s necessary?” a recruiter told The Hill. The recruiter also stressed past experience as a key to placement.

“Do you have practical relationships in leadership? Management experience in the private sector? There’s the situation where most of these folks have had a large tenure in public service. They’re also thinking of ways they can make up for lost time from a financial perspective,” the recruiter said.

High on lists will be committee chairmen, with the current retiring class featuring some names with long experience in politics and business.

Retiring House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) was a former CEO of the Family Support Assurance Corporation before entering Congress. And retiring House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) was a business owner before political life.

There are also different skills that business associations look for compared to K Street shops.

Associations generally work with head hunters to fill senior positions, such as CEO or senior vice president of government relations, with former lawmakers.

“As a CEO or head of government relations at a trade association, you’re running a comprehensive campaign every day while countering your opponents’ every move, all while managing the different personalities and opinions from your own membership and board of directors,” a lobbyist told The Hill. 

Law firms tend to hire on their own and not work through a headhunter.

The current class of retiring lawmakers is heading to K Street at a time of change for the influence world. 

Associations used to be a comfortable next step for lawmakers. Some former members still remain at the helm of these companies, like James Greenwood (R-Pa.), CEO of the Biotechnology Innovation Organization, Calvin M. Dooley (D-Calif.), CEO of the American Chemistry Council and Richard Baker (R-La.), CEO of the Managed Funds Association.

“It always boils down to what is the culture and/or issues of that association. Sometimes they consciously shift to a more Democratic flavor as they may be seen as too conservative. Other times, an organization just feels more comfortable with someone on the same side of the aisle,” a recruiter told The Hill.

Associations are also hesitant to hire lawmakers who they suspect are not interested for the right reasons.

“I know specifically there’s a few-ex members who would like to lead a big industry fight but, by and large, they’re just looking to monetize their relationships and do so as quickly as possible,” a lobbyist told The Hill.

Longevity is another big factor is deciding whether to take a former member for both associations and lobbying shops. 

The new class of retiring lawmakers is a diverse group, with some serving for decades while others are leaving Congress after much shorter stints.

“There are a lot of younger members, people like Ryan Costello, who I think would be actually good because they still have energy and haven’t been totally reliant on staff for their entire 20-year career,” a lobbyist told The Hill. “Whereas a Rodney Frelinghuysen is not going to go run a trade association or be a No. 2.”

Frelinghuysen is a retiring 12-term New Jersey Republican who served as the chairman of the Appropriations Committee, while Costello, a Pennsylvania Republican, is leaving after two House terms.

Additionally, trade associations have to consider whether a former lawmaker is the best choice to be the face of the industry’s lobbying efforts. Many associations are looking for lawmakers to fill the No. 2 job, not as CEO.

“Not every CEO of every trade association wants to be out there as the face of the industry, on the Hill — a lot of times they’re someone whose come up through the industry,” a lobbyist said.

The same goes for if a lawmaker is looking to work at a Fortune 500 company or a big law firm.

“They’ve been at the pinnacle of what one could argue a very respected position and to move from being a principal to supporting another principal is a tough adjustment,” a recruiter said.

Many major associations are led by CEOs who did not come from Congress, including Geoff Freeman at the helm of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, John Downs at the top of the National Confectioners Association and Bill Miller, who was just named CEO of the American Gaming Association.

They came up either inside the industry or working on issues related to the industry. For members who were career politicians and are now handing out résumés, that could be tough to compete with.

Tags Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Barbara Comstock Bill Shuster Ed Royce Jeb Hensarling John McCain Lynn Jenkins Rodney Frelinghuysen Ryan Costello

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