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 isn’t surprising: Many staffers end up working in his office for a decade or more, according to Lane Bailey, his former chief of staff .
“He’s 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 Rockefeller’s 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 he’s 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 Committee’s 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 Rockefeller’s Washington, D.C., home in mid-April, according to lobbyists.
“He’s 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.
Considering his tenure as chairman of the Intelligence Committee, lobbyists say they expect him to have a much keener interest in homeland security issues, including the Transportation Security Administration, online bank security issues and dealing with the private industries that run them.
The move to integrate his experience on other committees doesn’t surprise lobbyists who work on Commerce Committee issues.
Kevin Curtin, a former staff director on the Commerce Committee, said Rockefeller has a history of integrating committee work.
“He doesn’t tend to think in silos,— Curtin said. “I think he imports and integrates his information and knowledge in a way that is a hallmark.—
Rockefeller has also moved to re-establish the committee’s subpoena power. He created an investigations division at the full committee level, and subpoenas can now be granted with the approval of the chairman and ranking member.
“The best way to describe Sen. Rockefeller’s chairmanship would be extremely proactive,’— said Jamie Smith, who serves as communications director both to Rockefeller and the Commerce Committee.
“Sen. Rockefeller is going to do everything possible to reboot the economy and help working families — his agenda is focused on giving a strong voice to consumers, and moving commerce, science and transportation securely into the 21st century and beyond,— Smith added.