Former Rep. Walt Minnick set up a lobbying shop after leaving Congress a year ago, but only now is he allowed to talk business on the Hill.
For nearly 100 ex-Members of Congress who were wiped out in the 2010 elections or who left office on their own terms, the shackles came off this week. They are now free to lobby on Capitol Hill.
Many of these former lawmakers already went to work on K Street while still under their bans, but until Wednesday they had to carefully navigate client relationships without running afoul of the law. They were permitted social interactions with Hill denizens and could offer behind-the-scenes advice to paying clients. But directly lobbying their one-time colleagues was strictly off-limits, and many ex-Members say they rode out their bans steering clear of the Hill for the sake of appearances.
When Idaho voters left Walt Minnick without a job after the 111th Congress, the Democrat set up his own government affairs shop, the Majority Group, with his former chief of staff, Rob Ellsworth.
“We got a dozen or so clients, but because of the ban, Rob had been the one meeting with Members of Congress and staff,” Minnick said. “Having worked in the Nixon White House, I’m not into felonies.”
While some former Members pledge not to directly lobby even after their bans are up, Minnick said he’s looking forward to the new opportunity. His one-year ban also prevented him from representing foreign governments, an area he plans to mine this year for potential business. “I have some extensive connections with China,” he said, “and I’m looking forward in particular to that.”
Other ex-Members whose bans expired this week include Earl Pomeroy (D-N.D.), who is now with Alston + Bird; Venable’s Bart Stupak (D-Mich.); John Tanner (D-Tenn.) of Prime Policy Group; Husch Blackwell’s Ike Skelton (D-Mo.); Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin (D-S.D.), now with Olsson Frank Weeda; Manatt Phelps & Phillips’ Dan Maffei (D-N.Y.); and Vigor Industrials’ Brian Baird (D-Wash.).
“Yee haw,” Baird said about the end of his ban. “I can actually speak to people. I lived within the ban dutifully and diligently; now my free speech rights have been restored.”
He added that his Seattle-based government relations job with Vigor allows him more time with his children, whom he sometimes shuttles from school to gymnastics classes. He is responsible for coordinating the ship-repair and construction company’s strategy internally and with its outside lobbyists at K&L Gates. But the former Congressman said he doesn’t plan to lobby for Vigor, despite his glee that the ban is over.
But he does have a pro bono cause that he plans to start pressing on the Hill.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.