Breaux: On His Own Now

Senator-cum-Lobbyist Can No Longer Rely on Staff to Carry the Load

Posted January 28, 2005 at 5:53pm

The appetite among K Street lobbying firms for retiring Members of Congress rarely abates. For recently retired Sen. John Breaux (D-La.), the hunger was positively ravenous.

“I want to be careful to not sound like I’m being braggadocious,” Breaux says, declining to detail the crush of employment offers he received. He does say, however, that the flood of entreaties grew so intense last year that he took former President Bill Clinton’s advice and hired agents to vet them. “It got to be so much, I couldn’t handle it all myself,” he says.

With the uncertainty now over — Breaux has settled in at the law and lobbying firm Patton Boggs and a pair of New York investment firms — the former Senator is in a good mood. The work is hard, he says, but it’s also clear that the same guileful panache that steadily lifted his star in Congress has eased what could have been an awkward transition to life in the private sector.

“It’s a challenge,” Breaux says, sitting in a Patton Boggs office that reflects a life still in limbo. The walls are bare, and his main piece of furniture, a plaid couch, clashes with the small faux-Oriental rug nearby.

But if he’s sitting at a borrowed desk — his Senate desk hasn’t been delivered yet — he’s also sitting pretty, literally. The windowed wall behind him offers a commanding view of M Street as it heads into Georgetown.

“It’s important for people to be able to wake up in the morning and have a challenge,” he continues. “Some people retire and hit a rocking chair. There’s no reason for them to wake up in the morning.”

Breaux now wakes up at 5 in the morning, two hours earlier than in his Senate days. Working for 18 hours, he says, isn’t unusual these days, and all sorts of chores he used to be able to delegate to his 40-person staff are suddenly his own responsibility.

“I’m calling people on the phone myself,” he says, with just a hint of bewilderment. “I pick up the phone and dial it. I never did that as a Senator.”

Keeping track of appointments, and belongings, has also proved a problem. In New York last week, Breaux says, he had to surrender a pocket knife at the airport, because he had brought it on the train up and had forgotten that he was flying back.

“I have to worry about the details,” he said.

Surrendering his elected office also saddled Breaux with weightier obligations: Now he’s actually expected to know what he’s talking about.

As a Senator, Breaux could call on staffers to give him the quick-and-dirty version of the issue of the day.

“I didn’t have to really know it,” he said. “The staff could come in and just brief me. And now I’m pretty much expected to know it. I’m dealing with people who, in their 30 years, have been in their world. And they know their world cold.”

So Breaux is putting himself through a crash course on finance. He’s reading a book about Wall Street, another about hedge funds and, he’s evidently not embarrassed to admit, “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to MBA Basics.”

Aside from the mechanical adjustments, Breaux says he already feels comfortable with the most profound switch he’s made in his role — the shift from lawmaker to lobbyist.

For many Members, the idea of joining the hordes that used to crowd their office and beg for scraps outside their committee rooms is repellent.

Breaux acknowledges that sentiment without even being asked. When queried about how his transition is going, he begins by saying, “Some people say, ‘You’re going to go off and be a lobbyist. How could you do that?’”

But Breaux was noted in Congress less for advocating a particular ideology than for cannily floating between the aisles, bringing disparate factions together and getting the work of Congress — passing bills — accomplished.

Once a deal maker, always a deal maker.

So to answer his own question, he says he doesn’t anticipate his work outside of Congress will differ much from the work he did inside it.

“I have no problem being a lobbyist,” he says. “I’ve been lobbying for 32 years, advocating positions to my colleagues, trying to sell my viewpoint on things.”

It undoubtedly helps that Patton Boggs was founded by Tommy Boggs, a member of one of the signature political dynasties in Breaux’s home state of Louisiana. The ties go back decades.

For the next year, a lobbying ban on former Members forbids him from talking directly to Members or their staff. Breaux said he expects his work to focus instead on advising clients. But when the ban expires, he says, he will have no problem buttonholing his former colleagues in the halls of Congress, if he’s asked.

“It’s not something that bothers me,” he says.

That may, in part, be by necessity. Breaux has spent more than half his life in Washington as an elected representative. “That’s what I know,” he says. “I can’t go off and be a football coach.”

Of all the challenges of private life, Breaux says, the most unexpected is arguably also the most enviable: After years of taking home checks on a capped government salary, Breaux will now be pulling down more money than he knows what to do with, or even has time to spend.

Other lobbyists estimate that Breaux could be collecting $4 million a year these days, between his work for Patton Boggs, Riverstone Holdings (a Carlyle Group subsidiary that focuses on the energy sector), and the Clinton Group (a hedge fund company unaffiliated with the former president) and from appearances on the speech circuit.

Breaux declined to discuss his compensation. But whatever it is, he said he doesn’t know what effect the money will have.

“I still go to Wal-Marts,” he said. “And I’ll probably always do that, because that’s me.” CORRECTION: A Jan. 31 article profiling former Sen. John Breaux (D-La.) incorrectly described one of the companies he has joined, Riverstone Holdings, as a subsidiary of the Carlyle Group (“Breaux: On His Own Now”). In fact, the companies that link Riverstone and Carlyle — Carlyle/Riverstone Global Energy and Power I & II — aren’t subsidiaries of Carlyle and don’t employ Breaux. Breaux is employed by Riverstone Holdings.