Exiting Staffers Still Favor K St.

Revolving Door Still Moving at Rapid Pace

Posted June 10, 2008 at 6:36pm

Although Congress adopted stringent new rules last fall in an attempt to slow traffic between Capitol Hill and K Street, more than half of the senior House and Senate staffers who have left their posts in recent months have opted for jobs in lobbying, consulting and advocacy.

According to public records maintained by both the House and Senate, just more than 100 “very senior aides” — those individuals whose annual rate of pay is equivalent to $126,975 for at least 60 days during the preceding 12 months — have left the Hill since November 2007.

These top-earning House and Senate staffers, whose departure records were made public under the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act, face a one-year lobbying ban should they leave the Hill.

Neither the Clerk of the House nor the Senate Office of Public Records includes information indicating whether a staffer has accepted a new post — only their previous office and departure date — but a Roll Call analysis found that 60 of those aides listed have joined lobbying firms or accepted posts in consulting or advocacy.

“The one-year post-employment ban is generally considered a device for slowing down the revolving door a little bit. It’s kind of a misdemeanor device,” said Paul C. Light, the Paulette Goddard Professor of Public Service at New York University-Wagner.

“Somebody who’s at that senior level is going to have connections, and unless the Member they’re working for is about to leave, K Street will take them in a heartbeat.”

Departing Hill staffers who go into lobbying and consulting have three main options, said Ivan Adler, a lobbyist headhunter at the executive search firm McCormick Group.

They can either work for one client, with an in-house position at a corporation or a trade association, or as a contract lobbyist at a law or lobby shop and represent several companies or coalitions.

“You can either be the client or work for the client,” Adler said.

Pay is typically better — starting at a base of $250,000 a year — for senior staffers who join lobbying or law firms. Association gigs often are more stable, and corporate gigs can provide stock options and sometimes the perk of having a political action committee.

Hired-gun lobbyists at firms are under pressure to bring in business and to service multiple accounts. But that pressure can also translate into handsome monetary rewards.

Kathryn Clay, a former Senate Energy and Natural Resources professional staff member, recently joined the association world as director of research for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. She interviewed with law firms and interest groups, but she said the Alliance sold her because, while working on the Hill, she handled legislation to spur technology investment and innovation.

The Alliance, she said, has “an innovative approach to solving energy related problems. I was impressed with how much the auto industry invests in technology R&D and how fast the technology is changing.”

Technology was also a driving force behind Barry LaSala’s decision to join Microsoft as a director of government affairs. The former aide to Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) on the Small Business Committee said he didn’t leave the Senate because new lobbying restrictions were coming into effect but because he wanted to work in-house for Microsoft.

“I’ve admired this company for a long time as a global leader in technology,” he said.

Other former senior Hill aides say they prefer a smaller lobby shop to a massive Fortune 50 company.

Sander Lurie, for one, joined the 11- lobbyist Bockorny Group as a vice president after serving as chief of staff to Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.).

“It sort of feels like a Senate office,” Lurie said of his new gig. “I’ve got colleagues, but it’s small and we do a lot. I get to work on a lot of different issues. It’s not a big gigantic company.”

Democrat Michael Meehan, the former chief of staff to Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), decided to make history by joining the previously all-GOP firm of BGR. He is now president of the firm’s public relations unit.

“My Irish grandmother said if you want to do politics, work with Democrats, and if you want to do business, work with Republicans,” Meehan said. “I took her advice.”

Sometimes when a lobbyist-to-be makes the turn through the revolving door, the K Street job is more about personal connections.

When John O’Neill, the former policy director and counsel for then-GOP Whip Trent Lott (Miss.), found himself looking for a job, he felt most comfortable with the law firm Venable.

O’Neill, a lawyer, said he already knew more than five lobbyists and lawyers at the firm, including fellow partners Patricia McDermott and Tom Quinn.

“For me, one of the advantages I saw to a law firm was the ability to work on complicated issues,” he said. “One of the unique aspects to law firms is bringing resources across the range of policymaking to help clients solve sophisticated problems.”

Roll Call’s analysis of 102 House and Senate departure records shows that in addition to those who left the Hill for lobbying or advocacy work, 16 aides retired from working entirely. A handful of staff listed also reported taking an extended leave to work on presidential or Congressional campaigns.

Another sizeable group of aides moved into other governmental jobs, including the executive branch and state government.

Some Congressional watchdog organizations have pressed Congress to revisit its new lobbying rules to strengthen disclosure requirements for House lawmakers who plan to leave Capitol Hill, but it remains to be seen whether either chamber would put stricter provisions in place regarding its staff.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) office has previously indicated the ethics rules could be revisited at the start of the 111th Congress, when both chambers typically consider alterations to their internal policies, but her spokesman declined to say Tuesday whether the House would add additional information to its public register of ex-senior staff.

“We’re not going to discuss any rules change until next year and all ideas will be closely examined,” spokesman Nadeam Elshami said.