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Street Talk: Farming a Team of Former Members Does Not Guarantee a Win

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Former Members of Congress such as former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole are highly valued by clients who hope to build connections with official Washington. However, gathering support from former Members does not always guarantee wins.

"Members are like popcorn in the pan, some pop and some don't," said headhunter Ivan Adler of the McCormick Group, borrowing a line from his favorite movie "Jerry Maguire." "Having all those former Members in the lineup does not guarantee you the pennant."

Maybe not. But at Alston & Bird, lobbying revenue is up. It hit its peak last year with $13.7 million in Lobbying Disclosure Act fees. In 2008, it reported $8 million; 10 years before it was just $550,000. Many of the clients come from Alston's health care group led by Thomas Scully, a former administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. But the firm says the ex-lawmakers help, too.

"It works for two reasons," said Bob Jones, who leads the lobbying practice. "One, they're really, really good at what they do. And everyone likes each other and works together as a team. The bipartisan, bicameral blend of the superstars is attractive to clients."

When trading in former Members, "there's an ego factor," Tauzin noted. "A lot of Members have a hard time going from being the boss to playing a role in advocacy. What I love about the folks I'm working with here is they've all made that adjustment."

Dole's former firm, the now-defunct Verner Liipfert Bernhard McPherson and Hand, also built a practice around big names, and that didn't work out so well. "A lot of folks have great marquee names, but they're isolated," said Jones, whose hires also included former Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), who left for rival DLA Piper in 2009. "I don't care how great you are, but if you're in a silo, it's hard to be successful."

Dole, Tauzin, Lincoln and Pomeroy all say the vibe of the firm is collegial, not eat-what-you-kill. They revel in a bipartisanship that, they say, is absent from their former place of work.

That doesn't mean they check their partisan affiliations at the door.

Tauzin, who was a Congressional Democrat before flipping to the GOP, says he was an early force behind the recent tea party movement when, back in the late 1990s, he pushed for a bill to abolish the federal income tax. Inspired by colonists who took on the British empire over a tax on tea, the Cajun went to Boston and 40 other cities to rally support for his measure.

"We put the income tax code in a tea chest and threw it in Boston harbor," he recalled in a recent interview.

"Tea parties didn't start forming until the early 2000s," he added. "So I don't claim to be the father or the grandfather, but I think we planted the seeds."

As the tea party movement was growing, though, Tauzin spent five years running the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, where he reportedly earned $11.6 million his last year in 2010. He works with his son at Tauzin Consultants and is affiliated half-time with Alston in 2011.

He said Alston offers him a platform to pitch business to clients who also need the support of the firm's 800 lawyers. At Alston, he is registered to lobby for credit reporting company Experian, transportation firm Navistar and the New Arcadian Networks.

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