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K Street Files: Some Ex-Members Lining Up Gigs

Former Senator Saxby Chambliss has already found a job on K Street. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

It took hardly any time at all for just-retired Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga.  

Ditto for ex-Reps. Lee Terry, R-Neb., and Bill Owens, D-N.Y.  

The trio of former lawmakers, part of the club of about 70 members who left Capitol Hill earlier this month at the close of the 113thCongress , have already landed gigs on K Street. But many of their recent fellow Hill alumni may not find the job market so easy to navigate. And even for those who may find themselves in high demand in the private sector, high-paying lobbying jobs can take months to work out.  

“This is a challenging year for former members,” said longtime K Street headhunter Ivan Adler of the McCormick Group. “There really has to be a solid business case to be made — more so today than I’ve seen in the 19 years I’ve done this. I think for some of them, it may be more difficult to get a job, and they probably won’t be paid the premium they were in the past.”  

Chambliss joined DLA Piper, while Terry — one of the few House Republicans to lose his seat — signed on with law and lobby firm Kelley Drye & Warren. Owens is setting up shop in the D.C. office of McKenna Long & Aldridge.  

Chambliss, whose party now controls the Senate and the House, said he fielded interest from multiple firms.  

“I was very honored to have the opportunity to talk to a lot of folks. ... This was not an easy decision; frankly, I thought it would be,” said Chambliss, who noted he’ll be practicing law, not lobbying. “I’m a lawyer, not a lobbyist, but I have great respect for the lobbying community.”  

Like other former senators, Chambliss faces a two-year ban on lobbying former Hill colleagues. Former House lawmakers have to ride out a one-year cooling-off period.  

Julian Ha, another K Street recruiter who runs the government affairs and trade association practices at Heidrick & Struggles, said senior former lawmakers or those with experience in financial services, energy, health care and tax issues will field the most offers. In the Kelley Drye announcement of Terry's hire, the firm noted the ex-Nebraska lawmaker's work on energy issues and data security, among others. Chambliss said he plans to focus on trade, national security, cybersecurity and other matters he's "been focusing on for 20 years."  

But, Ha said, “one-term or two-term Congress folks will either have to go back to their hometown or reinvent themselves. They’re competing against others who will have more experience, more tenure.”  

Ha said he’s met with several ex-members, as well as their aides, though he doesn’t represent them; he, instead, works for companies or associations that are looking to make hires.  

“What I’ve tried to tell them is that on the plus side, it looks like there’s real momentum from [Speaker John A.] Boehner and [Senate Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell to try to govern and legislate and get stuff done,” Ha said.  

Headhunters and lobbyists who are looking to make hires say former senators — such as Mary L. Landrieu, D-La., or Mark Pryor, D-Ark. — would be sough-after, commanding salaries north of $1 million.  

Former House members could pull in $300,000 to $750,000 a year or more depending on seniority, committee assignments and areas of expertise.  

But it’s also about finding the right opportunity at the right time.  

Many former lawmakers have gone on to lead trade associations. Frank Keating, a former GOP governor from Oklahoma and current president of the American Bankers Association, announced he would leave at year’s end — spurring a search led by the firm Russell Reynolds.  

That gig would be highly prized for former members. Keating’s annual compensation, according to 2013 tax forms, was more than $1.9 million.  

Some firms privately say they purposefully eschew hiring former lawmakers because they often come with outsized salaries and untested track records in the private sector. Many firms also don’t want to deal with ex-members who are reluctant to lobby, even after their cooling-off bans have expired.  

But in certain areas, the demand for the cachet of “the honorable” title carries considerable weight and firms will be willing to work around the demands of former lawmakers.  

“Clients love it, and foreign clients love it even more,” Adler said. With global work a growing part of the K Street business, some ex-lawmakers may brand themselves as international advisers before long.  

Kate Ackley is a staff writer at CQ Roll Call who keeps tabs on the influence industry. Related: The 114th: CQ Roll Call's Guide to the New Congress Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.