As a longtime lobbyist who happens to be a former member of Congress, ex-Rep. Toby Moffett, D-Conn., thinks criticism of the so-called revolving door is a bit unfair. “You see former quarterbacks and all-star baseball players just moving seamlessly into the media and they’re treated with reverence because they know the game,” he said, adding, “Why wouldn’t the same be true for people who know the political game?”
Moffett, who left Congress in 1983, is settling into life at Mayer Brown as a senior adviser to the law firm’s government and global trade group. He is based in D.C., but will focus on the firm’s clients that have a stake in Africa, ranging from the Moroccan ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Congo’s soccer team.
Prior to joining Mayer Brown last month, Moffett ran his own lobbying firm, The Moffett Group. Moffett said the company no longer exists and he now oversees the group’s clients under the Mayer Brown umbrella.
The Connecticut Democrat will also co-lead the firm’s interaction with global governments, alongside former Rep. David McIntosh, R-Ind., who interned in Moffett’s office while he was attending Yale University.
Moffett served in the House from 1975 to 1983 and left Congress when he was only 38. “I always say I would never have done the job as a grown up,” joked Moffett, who explained that leaving Congress at a young age allowed him to gain more private-sector experience.
He also noted that he and his wife, Myra, had four of their six children after he left Congress and that being out of office “gave me more time to learn how to be a father, which would’ve been difficult in the House.”
Moffett left Congress to run for the Senate and lost a close race to then-Sen. Lowell Weicker, the Republican incumbent. Moffett then joined the media world as a news anchor for NBC’s affiliate in Hartford, Conn.
Following an unsuccessful attempt to return to the House in 1990, Moffett joined the agricultural giant Monsanto as vice president and eventually decided to go into lobbying. “I was trying to support a family and I was trying to stay involved in issues,” Moffett said of his decision to start his own firm.
Former members of Congress often face their fair share of criticism when entering government affairs, Moffett noted.
“Former members start out with a gigantic amount of skepticism about why they’re there, what they’re capable of,” said Moffett. He added that former congressional staffers dominate the field and they are often wary of whether former members of Congress have the strategic skills necessary to be successful lobbyists.
So Moffett said he had to earn respect in D.C. lobbying circles, an experience he relished. “I think it’s a great thing that even former members — especially former members — have to earn their spurs,” he said.
Members-turned-lobbyists do have an advantage in government affairs when it comes to getting that first foot in the door of current lawmakers.
“You think like members, and the members know that you’ve been there so there’s a certain amount of respect,” said Moffett. However, he added that lobbyists also have to prove their competence to get their other foot through the door.
The skepticism facing former lawmakers in the lobbying arena is part of a broader criticism of lobbying itself: The industry is a revolving door of insiders.
After clarifying that he supports more transparency when it comes to lobbying Congress, Moffett noted that garnering congressional approval for projects such as renewable energy developments takes a specific set of skills that come from participating in politics.
Along with encountering Congress in his day job, Moffett is also an active volunteer in Democratic campaigns. “I am up to my eyeballs in politics,” Moffett said.
Moffett often serves as a member of a Democrat’s “kitchen cabinet,” a group of informal advisers. He has been especially committed to helping his fellow Connecticut Democrats in the House and Senate stay in office.
Aside from assisting Democratic campaigns, Moffett enjoys watching a basketball game while talking politics with his friends from Congress. But he said that his friends currently in the House are awestruck by his stories of working in conference committees.
Moffett said that harkening back to a Congress where Republicans and Democrats forged coalitions is not just nostalgia for the good old days. “It was a different job,” he said. “We were in the majority then and the place was functioning.”
Moffett said his Democratic friends are frustrated serving in the minority in the House. “They got into politics to be activists and they’re not being allowed to do that now."
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