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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.

“You could be a wig, and you will be sought after in this town if you know about taxes,” said Ivan Adler, a lobbying headhunter with the McCormick Group. “My phone has been ringing already about taxes, taxes, taxes, people looking to hire those with tax experience. They don’t care if you are in the cocktail party. They have to do something or else we go off the fiscal cliff.”

Among the Members who will be shutting down their Congressional offices are retirees such as Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.), a longtime advocate of the defense industry, and centrist Sens. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), as well as those who lost on Election Day, including Reps. Robert Dold (R-Ill.), Ben Chandler (D-Ky.) and Howard Berman (D-Calif.). Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R-Calif.) lost her seat, and her husband, Rep. Connie Mack IV (R-Fla.), lost his bid for a Senate seat.

But Adler said the job offers may come with strings attached.

“I think that due to the current economic situation, it’s going to be harder for firms to justify hiring people directly off the Hill and out of government unless they can make the case that they are going to be magnets for business walking in the door,” he said.

Doug Pinkham, president of the Public Affairs Council, an association that represents the public affairs industry, agreed.

“Don’t assume that just because you’ve been well-known or well-regarded on Capitol Hill that it will get you a high-paying job on K Street,” he said. “There’s a feeling in the corporate world and trade association world, increasingly, that former Members of Congress and key staff only make great Washington lobbyists and Washington office heads if they have some previous experience in the private sector.”

Pinkham added that the partisan bomb-throwers who might thrive on the Hill won’t easily fit in with the corporate hierarchy of K Street. Connections, too, have a relatively short shelf life.

“Remember when everybody bragged about how they worked for Tom DeLay?” he said, referring to the former GOP House Majority Leader who resigned in 2005 amid a campaign finance investigation.

The good news for lobbyists and wannabe K Streeters, Pinkham said, is that the scope of the tax and budget policy issues on the horizon may force every sector to arm up.

“Look at some of the big issues that are going to be talked about: budget cuts throughout the government, tax reform,” he noted. “There are constituencies all over the place that want to be represented.”

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