New K Street Environment Favoring Democrats

Posted September 10, 2009 at 1:56pm

Almost a year after President Barack Obama’s historic victory and Congressional Democrats added to their majorities in both chambers, headhunters claim that lobbying shops, trade groups and corporate offices continue to prefer Democratic talent — when it’s available — though Republicans are hardly being shut out.

“This is a very active time in the job market for individuals with Democratic contacts. The majority of our clients are seeking individuals who have the policy depth as well as the appropriate relationships on the Democratic side of the aisle,— said Nels Olson, a senior client partner at the recruiting firm Korn/Ferry International.

“It’s a very challenging job market right now for individuals with Republican credentials,— he added. “It comes down to the political reality: With Democrats in charge of the House, the Senate and the White House, there’s a obvious demand for individuals with the appropriate relationships.—

But among recruiters who specialize in lobbying, the extent of the demand exclusively for Democrats appears debatable. Republicans can still find work, recruiters say, but there are more candidates in the running for fewer jobs. Still, these experts say policy acumen continues to outweigh political affiliation alone.

Veteran headhunter Eric Vautour, a partner at Russell Reynolds Associates, said downtown human resources departments continue to prefer Democrats; after all, more foot soldiers are needed to visit the increased number of Democratic offices. But companies and trade groups continue to take the bipartisan long view, he said.

“There probably are a few more available Republicans than there have been certainly in past few years, and there are probably fewer Democrats than there have been in the last few years. It’s natural,— Vautour said. “Most associations and most corporate offices aren’t terribly knee-jerk in terms of, Well, if we have Republicans and we need to get rid of them and hire Democrats.’ They try and balance it regardless of who’s in charge of Congress or the White House. Is there a little tilt toward Democrats at this point? Probably a little, but it’s not this pell-mell rush that people assume that there is.—

Ivan Adler, a recruiter with the McCormick Group, said Republicans with experience in Senate offices are faring better than their House counterparts. Experience with the insurance industry and pharmaceuticals continue to be the major selling point downtown, he said.

“The firms out there still have a pretty hardy appetite for Democrats, especially those folks with health care experience,— Adler said. “That has been a really tough find for everybody, on the corporate side, the trade association side and on the firm side.—

“Right now it’s a buyers’ market for Democrats out there who are looking into lobbying,— he added. “Finding a business-friendly Democrat is an arduous task for these trade associations and their search committees.—

The National Association of Broadcasters, the Credit Union National Association and TechNet are conducting recruiting campaigns to fill top lobbying positions in their downtown offices — jobs for which Democratic recruits presumably are being given the edge.

Despite the continued demand for Democratic talent, Republican lobbyists and all-GOP firms continue to find their niche.

Longtime lobbyist Dirk Van Dongen, president of the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors, called the recruiting tales of Republican woes simplistic.

“The notion that when Republicans were in the majority, Democratic trade association heads or lobbyists are all of a sudden not desirable employees — it’s grossly oversimplified to accept the notion that when Democrats are in the majority, Republican heads downtown get lopped off and when Republicans are in the majority, Democratic heads get lopped off,— Van Dongen said. “It just doesn’t work that way.—

“The power of any organization is a function principally of the strength of its constituency and the ability of that constituency to interact, communicate, impact the thinking of Members of Congress and administration officials,— he added. “It is not a function of the staff or their political affiliation.—

Individual lobbying shops, too, appear to be banking on continued demand for hired help from both sides for the aisle. Mark Isakowitz, a partner at the all-GOP firm Fierce, Isakowitz & Blalock, said business is “down a bit, but everybody here is busy.— Despite the downturn, Isakowitz said his shop has no plans to bring on Democrats and will remain “true to who we are.—

“We made a decision some time ago that what we do here is, we are a Republican firm that provides service to clients, 24/7, and we are part of the extended family of the Republican Party,— Isakowitz said. “While we do all of those things, we work very well with our Democratic colleagues.—