Bill Thomas Lands on K St. (but He Won’t Be Lobbying)

Posted May 2, 2007 at 6:31pm

Add one more name to the list of former Members who join the K Street ranks but pledge not to lobby. Former Rep. Bill Thomas (R-Calif.), who chaired the House Ways and Means Committee from 2001 until retiring in January, is setting up shop at Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney. But Thomas, who sources say will earn a base salary of around $600,000, doesn’t plan to wear out his shoes lobbying his one-time colleagues.

Thomas, who over 28 years earned a reputation as a prickly — though intellectual — partisan GOPer, said he will help the firm’s clients on big-picture advice.

“I’ll be able to work with Members and look at the bigger picture and the narrower picture, but I will not be lobbying,” insisted Thomas, who added that many of his interactions with Members will be through his current role as a visiting fellow with the American Enterprise Institute. “I have some younger Members I helped get in, and they’re growing.”

Thomas said the Buchanan Ingersoll job is part-time and that he will move between California and Washington, D.C. He said he plans to sell his house in Washington, live out of an apartment here and buy a bigger house in California.

At Buchanan Ingersoll, he will keep tabs on such issues as health care, trade promotion authority and reform of entitlement programs for Social Security and Medicare.

Thomas’ longtime committee counsel, Robert Winters; Alex Brill, a former Ways and Means senior adviser; and Thomas’ scheduler, Renee Edelen, have all joined the firm as well.

Democrat Ron Platt, who heads Buchanan’s lobby practice, said he first met Thomas and Winters in the mid-1980s while representing a client in Thomas’ Congressional district, which is just north of Los Angeles. Strange as it sounds, Platt said, the two hit it off.

“We shared an interest, which both of us have outgrown by now, in Porsches,” Platt said.

Platt said that even though Thomas is barred from lobbying Congress for one year and isn’t likely to lobby after his ban is over, Thomas can immediately provide advice for Buchanan clients like TMO Recyclables LTD, a London company that is working on cellulosic ethanol technology.

“Whether you agreed with him or not, Bill always had a grasp of where health policy or tax policy was going,” Platt said. “He can say to clients, ‘Here are things you might want to start doing now’ to position themselves for where he sees things going in the next five years.”

Platt said he is looking forward to working with Thomas, who will bring “intellectual firepower,” and the other members of Thomas’ team.

“He has a reputation for being somewhat difficult to get along with, and there are certainly people on the Hill who don’t like him,” Platt said. “Regardless of that, we spent a lot of time over the last month since we started talking and exploring that very issue — ‘Can we work together?’ — both from his end and mine, and I think we both came to the conclusion that we can.”

For his part, Thomas said that in addition to the Buchanan and AEI gigs, he is looking to serve on a corporate board. “Not a big one, but one where I might have an ability to influence in a positive way,” he said. “I’m curious about Sarbanes-Oxley and how companies deal with it. … I’m ignorant. By serving on a board, I could help the corporation and learn more about the way the corporate world deals with Sarbanes-Oxley.”

Thomas also isn’t ruling out the option of doing some consulting independent of Buchanan Ingersoll, and he said he is busy with AEI plans that include a Hill event on Tuesday focusing on health care policy — an example of the often blurry lines between direct lobbying and policy discussions.

“If I were a lobbyist, and suggesting particular pieces of legislation, I believe my credibility would be significantly damaged,” Thomas said of his AEI events. “I would much rather maintain my reputation and integrity than to make some money lobbying.”