For Some Ex-Members, a Chilled Job Market

Posted February 2, 2007 at 6:21pm

They’re not exactly queuing up at bread lines just yet, but a sizable number of former Members who lost their races for re-election in November still haven’t landed a new job.

While it’s true that most former Members will end up with cushy, well-paid gigs — particularly in the lobbying business — the job search can be a real burden to ex-Members, already demoralized by a loss and not accustomed to hearing “no” from K Streeters.

“Particularly some of the Republican Members who are looking to come downtown are having difficulty getting a slot,” said Ronald Christie, vice president of the GOP firm DC Navigators. “The winds are blowing in a different direction.”

Ivan Adler, a headhunter with the search firm McCormick Group, said the job search gets depressing for one-time Members of Congress.

“I think it can be a very emotionally trying exercise to go from being an elected Member of Congress to Joe Citizen,” he said.

Some Members, though, seem to breeze into the private sector. Already, former Rep. Nancy Johnson (R-Conn.), who was chairwoman of the House Ways and Means subcommittee on health, has landed at Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, which has a large health care practice. Former Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) has set up shop with former aides at GAGE Business Consulting and Government Affairs. Former Rep. Richard Pombo (R-Calif.) has hooked up with the public relations and government affairs firm Pac/West Communications.

Others have staked out non-lobbying posts that often serve as temporary or transitional gigs, as is the case with former Sen. Jim Talent’s (R-Mo.) role as a distinguished fellow at The Heritage Foundation. Talent also is an adviser to the presidential campaign of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R). (One lobbyist said Talent has told his former staffers that he wants to seek elective office again.)

Still others appear idle.

“Some of them are literally doing nothing,” said Adler, the headhunter. “Others, they’re out there having lunch and dinner and drinks with a number of people. Some of them just haven’t figured out what they want to do next.”

Former Rep. Michael Flanagan (R-Ill.) said he has not received the résumés from former colleagues he expected. “I haven’t heard a word,” he said. “I heard [former New York Republican Rep.] Sue Kelly is looking real hard at investment banking.”

Flanagan also said that former Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R-Ariz.) was exploring broadcasting, and former Rep. John Hostettler (R-Ind.) was examining his options.

Lobbyists also say they are wondering where former Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) might land as he considers whether there is another race for office in his future.

Another one who has yet to announce his next step is former Rep. John Sweeney. The New York Republican, who got some bad press for an altercation with his wife and for attending a fraternity party, has put together a résumé and, with the help of a Maryland search firm, faxed it to local law and lobbying firms but hasn’t found a new perch yet.

Robert Barnett, a partner at Williams & Connolly, has represented the likes of former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State James Baker as they transitioned from government to private sector.

He said the current job climate is “really a function of the individual.” Though he wouldn’t name specific former Members, he said, “I have a couple of clients who haven’t announced where they’re going because they have the happy situation of having multiple offers, and are carefully investigating those offers.”

Tom Murphy, with the search firm Higher Ground Services, represents Sweeney as well as former Rep. Joel Hefley (R-Colo.).

“I’m a talent scout,” he said. “A few years ago everyone was hot on Republicans. It’s harder for them to find a job.”

Former Rep. Jennifer Dunn (R-Wash.), who is a lobbyist at DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary, landed her job with Murphy’s help.

She said just because the former Members haven’t announced future jobs doesn’t mean they can’t find one. “I did not start my job with this firm until March” after leaving Congress, she said. “I felt I wanted to take all the time I needed.”

But, she said, “It’s a little harder now if you’re a Republican, but things switch back and forth.”

One plus for this recent crop of former Members, from a lobbying perspective, is they will be exempt from new post-government lobbying bans that are likely to pass into law this year, including one that would extend the ban from one year to two years.

“It wouldn’t apply to them,” said lobbying ethics lawyer Brett Kappel of Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease, a view confirmed by Craig Holman, a lobbyist with Public Citizen and a champion of tougher lobbying laws.

In future years, though, Holman said, the current bills would make for a “dramatic impact” on former Members’ ability to do even behind-the-scenes strategic advice that lobbying clients value.

That could make for an even tougher time for future ex-Members trying to find work in the lobby business — at least that’s what Holman hopes.