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Street Talk: Plum K St. Jobs Scarce in Post-Election Market

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Many departing Members of Congress, such as retiring lawmaker Sen. Joe Lieberman, will soon be looking for new jobs. But K Street may not offer as much as it used to, unless a lawmaker is an expert in a policy area likely to produce big issues next session.

If a revolving door between government and downtown actually existed, the line to get through it in the next few weeks would easily snake for miles.

Picture Members of Congress and their aides, who are leaving voluntarily or involuntarily, along with burned-out Obama administration staffers queueing up for potentially lucrative gigs in the private sector.

“It will be pandemonium,” said Eric Vautour, an executive with the headhunting firm Russell Reynolds Associates.

Even a status quo presidential election leads to seismic personnel shifts on Capitol Hill, the executive branch and K Street. But talent scouts such as Vautour and lobbyists who make hiring decisions say those on the hunt this year will find a slightly diminished marketplace, with top-salary jobs for ex-lawmakers, in particular, not as easy to land as previous years.

“The era of a lot of staff and Members coming out and getting platinum-level contracts is over,” said Rich Gold, who runs the lobby practice at Holland & Knight. “Members will be surprised.”

Gold said more firms, corporations and trade associations — whose bottom lines have suffered in the tough economy — will offer less guaranteed money and more incentive-based pay. That means newly minted lobbyists who don’t bring in new business or produce solid results for clients could wind up taking a financial hit.

“I think there’s going to be a much shorter leash on people meeting their productivity goals,” Gold said.

But before defeated and retiring Members of Congress and their aides get too worried, the pay bump for leaving government isn’t too shabby. And for some big names, seven figures will still be in play.

Retiring Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) could command $1 million to $2 million if, say, he chooses to work full time at a law firm, according to experts in K Street hiring. Other Members of Congress may struggle to get half of
Lieberman’s minimum.

Top Congressional committee aides will likely attract offers of $400,000 a year, when perhaps in previous years they may have been able to raise that to $500,000. Even lower-level Hill staffers should expect to field an offer in the $150,000 range.

House Republicans also are likely to command better pay than their Democratic counterparts, and some might be looking to “get out while the getting’s good,” said Kathryn Lehman, a top GOP lobbyist at Holland & Knight.

Regardless of party affiliation, anyone on the Hill or in the administration who can sell themselves as an expert in taxes, budget matters, health care or financial services will find bidders downtown.

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