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.
A neuropsychologist by training, Baird wants to compel medical schools and health care programs to include training in awareness of military deployment issues. In Congress, he also sponsored a bill to prevent insider trading among Members. When the issue gained traction in recent months, Baird said he felt frustrated that he was muzzled from discussing the topic with Members and staff.
“I have literally been waiting for this day,” he said, adding that he planned to call former colleagues and friends right away on the military deployment issue. “I really am passionate about this, and I want to get this done.”
Ken Gross, a partner at Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom who specializes in lobbying laws and ethics, explained that during the yearlong ban, former House Members cannot lobby any Members of Congress, officers or staff. They are not barred from lobbying the executive branch.
Gross added that any confidential information a Member learned while in office must remain under wraps and can’t be used to benefit lobbying clients.
Former Rep. Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.), who is now with K&L Gates, said he’s anxious to get back on the Hill.
“I had to be very cautious about any kind of contact,” said Gordon, who chaired the Science, Space and Technology Committee and did not run for re-election in 2010. “I had a pretty good reputation, and I wanted to maintain it.”
Former House Members such as Gordon may consider a year a long time, but former Senators must wait two years before they may return to the halls of the Capitol to lobby.
“You miss seeing the people you worked with every day,” Gordon said.
This week was a much less dramatic milestone for some ex-Members, who say they aren’t eager to return to the Hill and don’t intend to lobby.
“It doesn’t make any difference,” said James Oberstar (D-Minn.), the former chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee who lost his seat to Rep. Chip Cravaack (R). The senior adviser at the firm National Strategies said he’s doing speaking engagements around the globe and advising clients on public-private partnerships, particularly in the transportation field.
During his ban, Oberstar said, he was not afraid to chat with his former colleagues on Capitol Hill.
“As long as you’re not lobbying, you can talk to any Member of Congress,” he said. “I counsel colleagues on how to proceed on this and that.”
Oberstar said the ban serves its purpose. “It gives Members a separation and also removes public concern about lobbying and former Members of Congress having undue influence on the process,” he said. “It puts some space in there, and I think it’s a good thing.”