It took more than 20 years for Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) to rise to the top of one of the most powerful committees in the Senate. But just three months after taking the gavel of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, Rockefeller is reinvigorating the business-oriented panel and increasing his fundraising operation to match his newfound clout on Capitol Hill.
And that has translated into a growing demand for the handful of former Rockefeller staffers-turned-lobbyists on K Street.
Unlike most lawmakers in leadership who have a vast network of downtown allies, the former top Rockefeller staffers on K Street can be counted on one hand.
But the dearth of lobbyists with a Rockefeller pedigree isnt surprising: Many staffers end up working in his office for a decade or more, according to Lane Bailey, his former chief of staff .
Hes a great guy to work for, said Bailey, who spent nearly 22 years as an aide to the Senator.
Bailey, who heads up the recently spun-off government affairs division of GolinHarris, GolinHarris Public Affairs, is one of Rockefellers closest confidants, according to Democratic lobbyists.
Andrew Fields of Mercury Strategies is a close second. Fields spent seven years with Rockefeller focusing on telecommunications and aviation issues for the committee.
Drew is as tight as anybody I know in town to the chairman, one Democratic telecom lobbyist said.
Other former aides-turned-influence-peddlers include ex-chief of staff Jim Gottlieb, Harris, Wiltshire & Grannis Paul Margie, and Patrick Robertson, who recently jumped to the c2 Group.
Gottlieb, who spent more than 10 years with Rockefeller, first as his chief of staff on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and later as chief of staff in his personal office, recently hung his own shingle, Gottlieb Strategic Consulting.
Rockefeller might have a small community of ex-staffers on K Street, but hes no stranger to shaking the downtown money tree.
Although he is personally wealthy his great-grandfather was oil billionaire John D. Rockefeller the West Virginia Democrat has been a prolific fundraiser since he came to the Senate in 1985. Since 1989, Rockefeller pulled in $16.1 million from private donors, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
He has also long been a major contributor to the Democratic Party, taking turns as chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and as the Democratic National Committees finance chairman.
But he only started a leadership political action committee Mountaineer PAC earlier this month.
Fields of Mercury Strategies and Mary Jo Manning of Wiley Rein hosted a pre-kickoff fundraiser Thursday at Charlie Palmer Steak. The luncheon, where Rockefeller spoke, drew about 30 people, according to lobbyists in attendance.
Mountaineer PAC is expected to have its official fundraising kickoff at a reception in Rockefellers Washington, D.C., home in mid-April, according to lobbyists.
Hes actually been a prolific fundraiser for most of his career, Bailey said.
I think his new role as chairman of the committee and the establishment of a leadership PAC, which he is doing, is just further evidence of how good he is at this and his understanding of the importance of fundraising, Bailey said.
Demonstrating the wide scope of power that comes with the Commerce gavel, Rockefeller has already held hearings on cybersecurity, climate change and consumer protection.