July 25, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Street Talk: It Takes a K Street Village to Land Well Downtown

Brian Gaston gets it.

After coming seriously close to hitting lifer status on Capitol Hill, the senior aide to Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) is heading downtown. But where some Congressional staffers make the leap with little understanding of the downtown marketplace, Gaston relied on a village of K Street insiders to advise him on the mores of the lobby economy.

The tale of how Gaston ended up with a deal to join the Glover Park Group shows how a lot of business gets done — through a network of people who worked in the government and now run corporate shops and lobbying practices.

“You just know when it’s time to leave,” Gaston said recently, still giddy from his freshly inked deal with Glover Park, a Democratic-heavy public affairs and lobbying outfit.

At 48 years old, Gaston has spent more than half of his life, 26 years, on Capitol Hill. Although he has from time to time flirted with going to the private sector — think 1995 when Republicans took control of Congress and K Street shops scrambled for GOPers — he really made the decision last year.

That’s when he started meeting with a who’s who of Republican lobbyists: Nick Calio, who runs Citigroup’s government affairs; Mark Isakowitz and Kirsten Chadwick of Fierce Isakowitz & Blalock; David Hobbs, president of the Hobbs Group; Peck, Madigan, Jones & Stewart’s Peter Madigan; Gregg Hartley, chief operating officer of Cassidy & Associates; Susan Hirschmann from Williams & Jensen; and about 15 other one-time bosses, former employees and friends. He also reached out to headhunter Ivan Adler of the McCormick Group, who specializes in placing lobbyists.

Calio told him to start spreading the word that he was eyeing a downtown career.

“So I started sending e-mails, or telling people when I saw them, ‘I’m looking to leave,’” Gaston recalled. “I just started sending my résumé around.”

That résumé touted his leadership of former House Majority Whip Blunt’s office as well as his work for former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) and former House Republican Conference Chairman John Boehner (Ohio).

When someone with Gaston’s pedigree is looking to leave the Hill, there are typically three types of lobbying jobs: in-house at the Washington, D.C., outpost for a corporation, a position with a trade association, or a gig at a law or lobbying firm. Gaston told Chadwick and Isakowitz he didn’t want to pursue a firm. “Lobbying firms seem designed for the majority party, and it seems harder to break into that,” Gaston said of his thoughts at the time.

“They both told me, ‘You ought not to rule out going to a lobbying firm,’” he said. They made the pitch: At a firm, Gaston would be able to work on multiple legislative issues and could draw on his list of Capitol Hill contacts from a variety of offices.

He decided to keep that option open.

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