K Street giants scoop up coveted ex-lawmakers

Greg Nash

K Street’s largest law and lobbying shops are scooping up the most recent batch of lawmakers-turned-lobbyists, a sign of how the influence world’s powerhouse firms are expanding their clout.

Those large and wealthy firms are increasingly taking their pick of the congressional class, particularly this year with a number of long-serving Republican chairmen, and powerful Democrats who were upset in primaries, up for grabs after the 2018 midterm elections.

{mosads}Of the class, 15 former members are already lobbying at firms. Three — former Reps. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), both onetime chairmen, and ex-Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) — went to Washington’s highest-grossing lobby shop, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld. The second largest firm, Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, scooped up a onetime GOP chairman in former Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.).

After the 2016 elections, neither of those firms pulled in any lawmakers from that year’s exiting class.

Squire Patton Boggs, another top-five D.C. firm, brought on Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.), who was once seen as a future Speaker before his primary upset, and former House Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.). The two join former Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who joined the firm in 2016.

Two of the other top grossing firms, K&L Gates and Covington & Burling, were also in on the action, picking up ex-lawmakers.

“It certainly is always easier to join a winner,” Ivan Adler, a lobbying headhunter, told The Hill. “It’s hard to go wrong by joining a winner, and that’s what you’ve seen this time.”

Former members who went on to lobby have traditionally gone to firms. But there is also a history of many prominent lawmakers hanging their own shingle, such as former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), the founder and CEO of the Daschle Group, a public policy advisory of the firm Baker Donelson, or heading to high-profile positions at trade associations.

But increasingly others in the influence world are finding it harder to compete with the pull of the largest firms.

For K Street watchers, the stockpiling of top former lawmakers is just another sign of how the biggest players are only getting more powerful and leaving a tougher playing field for their rivals.

“Smaller firms might be shut out of the more well-known former members, unless if they are able to provide some of the guarantees of the bigger firms,” Julian Ha, a partner at Heidrick & Struggles, told The Hill.

In many cases, they will target lawmakers with less tenure.

{mossecondads}They could “pick up a member who perhaps served four terms as opposed to a Joe Crowley or a Bill Shuster,” said Ha.

Hunter Bates, co-head of the public law and policy practice at Akin Gump, told The Hill that it was “natural that a firm with a broad practice like Akin Gump would be attractive to former lawmakers.”

“Because of our size and our depth and our breadth, we are able to cover a broad range of issues,” he told The Hill. “I think that type of broad, and in our case global, platform makes it attractive to former members of Congress.”

Among the others who have made the jump this year, former Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) returned to Covington & Burling after a second short stint in the Senate, while 10-term House lawmaker Michael Capuano (D-Mass.) joined Foley & Lardner.

Other big firms who attracted former members this cycle included Baker Donelson, which hired ex-Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.); Faegre Baker Daniels Consulting, which hired ex-Rep. Luke Messer (R-Ind.); and Clark Hill, which hired ex-Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas).

The changes in the lobbying world have attracted controversy, with some worrying about the consolidation and others dismissing those concerns.

Ha downplayed the idea that mid-size and smaller firms were missing out on talented former lawmakers.

“You can also make the argument that former members who aren’t the big names will be hungrier, will hustle more and maybe they’ll actually prove to be a good, if not better, investment for a boutique,” Ha said.

“For those select former members who have a track record and impactful committee service and tenure, they will still be able to land some of these multiclient roles,” Ha added.

This year, four-term ex-Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-Kan.) joined Hobart Hallaway Quayle Ventures as a partner. The firm is also home to former Rep. Ben Quayle (R-Ariz.).

“Smaller firms provide different types of value. They’re generally more entrepreneurial, more invested in their clients,” a lobbyist told The Hill. “Smaller firms will continue to do well because of this sink-or-swim mindset, regardless of if they have former members with them.”

Fewer lawmakers also appear to be setting up their own shops.

After the 2014 cycle, at least three lawmakers set up their own shop, and in 2016 one did — former Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-Ind.), with the Stutzman Group.

This year, with a much larger class of former lawmakers, only Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.), who launched LoBo Strategies based in New Jersey, and former Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-Kan.), who started LJ Strategies LLC, even before she left office, have gone out on their own.

The pull of the biggest firms on K Street also comes as other groups have moved away from recruiting former lawmakers.

This year, none of the former members have joined trade associations, which used to be a popular landing spot.

K Street watchers attribute that to a change at business groups, which are more hesitant to take on former lawmakers, instead opting for those with closer ties to their industry or hires they are certain will make a long-term commitment to the association.

“The notable part of it is not that these A-list members of Congress went to the firms, but what’s notable is the lack of hiring of former members at these big trade associations and that used to be the bread and butter of former members,” Adler said.

He added that the lack of competition from trade associations is another boost to the highest-grossing firms.

For one prominent ex-lawmaker, a big K Street shop was the best fit.

Royce, who joined Brownstein in February, spoke to The Hill about the decision.

Royce said that he would have “had a pretty tough time” starting his own shop and talked about his desire to work on a range of issues, and have a firm with California clients to allow him to be in his home district.

“I worked a very broad range of issues in the House, from foreign affairs to finance services, which are the committees I served on, but also transportation and other issues,” Royce told The Hill. “Out of the gate, I was walking onto a team that were already working that broad range of issues that I had a background in.”

Marc Lampkin, managing partner of Brownstein’s D.C. office, said the firm has not been singularly focused on recruiting former members.

“Generally, our focus has been on former Hill staffers and people who had administration positions. We’ve found that some former members’ skillset doesn’t necessary fit our model,” Lampkin told The Hill. “Often, it’s not just the former member, but it’s them and a couple staffers.”

But Lampkin acknowledged the attraction.

“Part of the allure of former members, former elected officials, is they are, in many regards, the experts on how to achieve success in Washington,” he said.

With such a large exiting class from the last Congress, many former members are still deciding their plans this year. How the recruiting game shakes out other lawmakers remains to be seen, but for those with the best résumés, the top firms will be waiting.

“The bigger named firms will always attract the bigger former names,” Ha said.

Tags Barbara Comstock Bill Shuster Boehner Ed Royce Frank LoBiondo Ileana Ros-Lehtinen Joe Crowley Joe Donnelly John Boehner John Culberson Kevin Yoder Lamar Smith Luke Messer Lynn Jenkins Marlin Stutzman Michael Capuano

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