Former Congressional Black Caucus staffers flex clout on K Street

Former Congressional Black Caucus staffers flex clout on K Street
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The financial services industry is turning to former top staffers from the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) for lobbying talent, a trend reflecting the growing power of the CBC and the increased scrutiny the industry is facing under the Democratic House.

A number of former chiefs of staff to black lawmakers have been recruited to K Street this year. The moves come when  the Black Caucus is at a record membership and with some of its senior members, including House Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine WatersMaxine Moore WatersDemocrats could introduce articles of impeachment next week What are not criteria for impeachment? Fed's top regulator takes heat from both parties MORE (D-Calif.) and House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsImpeachment can't wait Adam Schiff's star rises with impeachment hearings Tucker Carlson calls Trump 'full-blown BS artist' in segment defending him from media coverage MORE (D-Md.), putting financial institutions in their crosshairs.

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“Financial Services holds a particular distinction for CBC-centered leadership because it [the financial industry] was one of the last industries to desegregate.And its power, in terms of providing access to capital, and its power to deny capital, has had a disproportionate, and at times harmful, impact on black communities for centuries,” a former congressional aide told The Hill. “These are serious matters, politically and policy-wise, that CBC chiefs consistently advise members on.”

Now, those staffers are in demand on K Street as the financial industry faces tougher oversight from Democratic lawmakers.

Among the prominent staffers who have made the jump to K Street this year are Ernie Jolly, a onetime deputy chief to Rep. Greg Meeks (D-N.Y.), now at the Mortgage Bankers Association, and John Jones, former chief of staff to Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), who went to Nareit, the industry group for real estate investment trusts.

Minh Ta, ex-chief of staff to Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Del.), joined the Carlyle Group, and Fabrice Coles, former executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus, is at the Bank Policy Institute. Cedric Grant, former chief of staff to Rep. Hakeem JeffriesHakeem Sekou JeffriesLive coverage: Witnesses say Trump committed impeachable offenses Pelosi faces tough choices on impeachment managers Lawmakers turn attention to potential witnesses at Judiciary impeachment hearings MORE (D-N.Y.), who is now the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, is at Subject Matter after a stint lobbying for H&R Block.

For K Street, tapping those with CBC ties is an important step to court House leaders, particularly on banking matters.

The CBC’s influence extends beyond Waters on the Financial Services Committee. Five of the six Financial Services subcommittees are headed by Black Caucus members, including Reps. Meeks, Cleaver, Joyce BeattyJoyce Birdson BeattyProgressive group unveils first slate of 2020 congressional endorsements Action needed to protect women in the workforce Stars turn out as Chappelle receives Mark Twain Prize MORE (D-Ohio), Al GreenAlexander (Al) N. GreenOvernight Energy: Pelosi vows bold action to counter 'existential' climate threat | Trump jokes new light bulbs don't make him look as good | 'Forever chemicals' measure pulled from defense bill Pelosi warns of 'existential' climate threat, vows bold action House sets up Monday hearing to hear evidence on Trump impeachment MORE (D-Texas) and Wm. Lacy ClayWilliam (Lacy) Lacy ClayLawmakers honor JFK on 56th anniversary of his death Trump tax breaks for low-income neighborhoods draw scrutiny Maloney wins vote for Oversight chairwoman MORE (D-Mo.).

James Ballentine, executive vice president of congressional relations and political affairs for the American Bankers Association, said black lawmakers have been attracted to the panel historically because of its oversight on housing issues. Now, lawmakers see it is an important perch to address a host of economic issues.

“The committee has such a wide swath of issues that cover the full array of financial products, services and regulatory oversight. It has become a very attractive committee if you are interested in banking and economic growth,” said Ballentine.

For the banking industry, 2019 has been a tough year, with the Democratic House pushing on a number of progressive priorities including stronger consumer protections, addressing wage inequality and bolstering affordable housing.

The House Financial Services Committee under Waters has taken a tougher stance on Wall Street’s top executives, with the chairwoman and panel grilling them personally at a hearing earlier this year on their compensation and efforts to diversify.

That increased oversight has brought anxiety to business groups, but also new opportunity to ex-CBC staffers.

“This is a relationship-driven time so you will continue to see a trend of CBC members, particularly on House Financial Services, get opportunities downtown as a result of the need to find a way to have a line of sight of how does Maxine Waters, how do progressives, think about the financial services sector,” another former staffer told The Hill.

The Financial Services Committee also added the Subcommittee on Diversity and Inclusion this Congress, which is chaired by Beatty, raising new, tough questions on those issues.

“Large insurance companies are going to be asked about the policies they sold covering slaves in the U.S. and large banks are being asked about how they accepted black bodies as business collateral,” the former aide said. “Rest assured, they are going to be asked about the lack of senior-level diversity in the financial sector.”

There has also been pressure on K Street to improve diversity in its firms and business associations.

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Those who spoke to The Hill welcomed the new ranks of black executives on K Street, even as they cautioned that the influence world should be careful about hiring minority lobbyists only to lobby minority lawmakers.

“When you look at the CBC former staffers and chiefs who have left, they’re brilliant individuals. They’re coming into these firms bringing a lot more value than just being an African American lobbyist,” the former staffer said.

There are “opportunities for former CBC chiefs and staffers who are now downtown to have some impact in what happens and ... translating that for companies and clients,” said Jerome Murray, former chief to Del. Stacy Plaskett (D-Virgin Islands), now at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck. “But it’s also ensuring that companies are not looking at former CBC chiefs to only do that.”

Michael Williams, founder of the Williams Group, added that companies are realizing they need to do better in hiring diverse talent.

“The natural inclination is to go and figure out where is the talent pool and can they, in fact, get people who are going to be good from a policy perspective but also have the connections within the Congress, and not just in the CBC,” he told The Hill.

But Williams noted that hiring these former CBC aides does not mean they are just checking a box.

“They’re not saying we should target CBC chiefs because Maxine Waters is a chair, that doesn’t really fly. It’s not going to be helpful to them from a financial services perspective,” Williams continued. “But, if you target them because they happen to specialize in this area and they have great connections on the committee and within the financial services industry, it’s just a bonus that they’re CBC chiefs.”

The top law and lobbying firms have also been tapping CBC staffers for their teams.

In addition to Murray at Brownstein, Virgil Miller, former chief of staff to Rep. Cedric RichmondCedric Levon RichmondBooker unveils legislation for federal bill to ban discrimination against natural hair Hillicon Valley: Senators ask Trump to halt Huawei licenses | Warren criticizes Zuckerberg over secret dinner with Trump | Senior DHS cyber official to leave | Dems offer bill on Libra oversight Senior DHS cyber official to step down MORE (D-La.), made the jump to Akin Gump.

For CBC staffers-turned-lobbyists, the challenge is how to use their clout to promote their clients’ interests and navigate House Democrats’ priorities.

“Financial services is important just in general because you’re talking about the U.S. economy,” said Ta, of the Carlyle Group. “CBC members have always been concerned that their constituents, not just black constituents, get a fair economy.”