Authors of GOP tax law disperse to lobby firms

Authors of GOP tax law disperse to lobby firms
© Greg Nash

Republican aides in Congress who were instrumental in writing the sweeping tax law last year are hitting the exits to take jobs in the lobbying industry. 

At least a half dozen high-profile GOP staffers have departed or are departing Capitol Hill, swapping jobs in the legislative branch for plum postings at firms like Akin Gump and Squire Patton Boggs. 

The exile from Congress includes top aides for the House Ways and Means Committee, Senate Finance Committee, and the offices of Sens. Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP, Kavanaugh accuser struggle to reach deal GOP making counteroffer to Kavanaugh accuser The Hill's 12:30 Report — Trump questions Kavanaugh accuser's account | Accuser may testify Thursday | Midterm blame game begins MORE (R-Ky.), Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanGraham calls handling of Kavanaugh allegations 'a drive-by shooting' Overnight Health Care: Senators target surprise medical bills | Group looks to allow Medicaid funds for substance abuse programs | FDA launches anti-vaping campaign for teens Bipartisan group wants to lift Medicaid restriction on substance abuse treatment MORE (R-Ohio) and Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyOvernight Defense: Pick for South Korean envoy splits with Trump on nuclear threat | McCain blasts move to suspend Korean military exercises | White House defends Trump salute of North Korean general WH backpedals on Trump's 'due process' remark on guns Top GOP candidate drops out of Ohio Senate race MORE (R-Pa.).

Among the biggest departures is Mark Prater, who served as chief tax counsel and deputy staff director for Senate Finance Committee Republicans. Prater, who has not yet announced his next career move, worked for the committee for nearly 30 years.

Prater cited Finance Committee Chairman Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchJudiciary Dems say GOP treating Kavanaugh accuser worse than Anita Hill Dem vows to probe 'why the FBI stood down' on Kavanaugh Senate Democrats increase pressure for FBI investigation of Kavanaugh MORE’s (R-Utah) retirement, the culmination of the tax-reform process and his accumulation of years on Capitol Hill as reasons for his departure. 

“It just seemed like a good breaking point and a chance to do something different,” he said.

Cashing in on K Street is a common move for congressional staffers in both parties, especially after major legislation is signed into law. Something similar happened after ObamaCare passed in 2010.

In the two years after President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act, more than 30 former administration officials, lawmakers and congressional staffers that had worked on the law joined the K Street ranks. The numbers have likely grown since then. 

What ObamaCare was for Democrats, last year’s tax law was for Republicans — the culmination of decades of policy work, and for many, a career ambition fulfilled. 

“It's not unusual for staffers on the Hill, after they've worked on a major piece of legislation like tax reform, to then want to move on. In their minds, they’ve done and accomplished what they wanted to do and then they move on,” said Ivan Adler, a principal at The McCormick Group.

Brendan Dunn, who joined Akin Gump this month after spending more than five years in McConnell’s office, said some people stayed on Capitol Hill longer than they otherwise would have just for the chance to work on the tax bill. 

There were “a lot of people who stayed for tax reform,” he said. 

One of McConnell’s former chiefs of staff, Hunter Bates, co-leads Akin Gump’s lobby shop.

Experts in tax policy and financial services issues are always in high demand at lobbying firms. But with the GOP law setting in motion the biggest overhaul of the tax system in a generation, inside knowledge of how the law was drafted is especially prized. 

“Having a background in making tax policy is a very wanted skill set on K Street,” Adler said. “The deal is this: it's when organizations are looking to hire congressional staffers, there's always a risk and reward thing on whether it's going to work out, but this is the ‘Jerry Maguire’ thing. They're like popcorn kernels in the pan — some pop, some don't. But, in general, there has been low risk in hiring tax policy experts to go to K Street.”

“The old adage that there are two things true in life, taxes and death? It's really true. There's going to be a lot to do in implementing the tax law and these tax staffers will be incredibly useful in navigating those tricky waters,” he added.

Former staffers who now work in the private sector say that working on the tax law was a once-in-generation opportunity. Now that it’s over, they found they were ready for something different. 

“There's a natural conclusion, where some of the legislating has been happening in the tax and health-care space happened. For staffers who focus on tax and health, this month or this timeframe was the natural conclusion to a lot of some of the things we had been working on,” said Matt Hoffmann, who most recently served as the GOP policy director for the Senate Finance Committee. He joined BGR Group less than two weeks ago. 

Zach Rudisill went to Capitol Hill straight from law school. He recently left Portman’s office for Akin Gump, saying he wanted to have the experience of working for a law firm. 

“It was just the right time for the next step in my professional career,” said Rudisill, who spent eight years working in Congress. 

Other staffers headed to the private sector after shorter stints in a congressional office. 

Randy Herndon, a former tax and budget counsel to Toomey, served on Capitol Hill for about three years, coming on specifically to work on tax reform.

“It was an honor to be a part of the experience last fall and winter and develop so many relationships along the way. It was very difficult to leave, but I believe folks like us can be as helpful on the outside on implementation” said Herndon, who just joined Capitol Tax Partners. “They complement each other in a lot of ways.”

David Stewart, a former staff director for House Ways and Means Committee Republicans, joined Squire Patton Boggs in April. He said he chose to go to the firm because he liked that he would have the ability to collaborate with colleagues around the world.

“This practice and this firm have built a unique global public policy practice that creates opportunities to solve big problems,” he said.

Former staffers who assisted in crafting the tax bill are likely to receive significant pay raises — some likely attracting seven-figure paychecks — and a much more flexible work schedule by moving to K Street. That’s a big change from the long hours they were required to work during the drafting of the tax bill.

Former aides said the grind of the congressional schedule can take its toll.

“When the Senate’s in session, you have to be there. That means extremely long nights sitting at your desk. That can wear on you,” said Dunn, who recently joined Akin Gump. Hoffman, now at BGR Group, said he looks forward to enjoying more time with his new baby. 

And with a draw like that, the recent wave of departures is likely far from over. 

“There are still a number of very talented tax staffers who have yet to make the decision on what to do next,” said Adler, the headhunter.