Congress

Former lawmakers, staff quickly set up on K Street

But many are finding a competitive job market downtown

Former Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., has returned to his previous job at lobbying and law firm Covington. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The revolving door between Capitol Hill and K Street kicked into hyper-spin this week, just days into the new Congress, as recently departed lawmakers and aides announced new gigs.

In an unusually fast repeat move, former Sen. Jon Kyl, the Arizona Republican who rejoined the Senate last year to temporarily fill the late Sen. John McCain’s seat, returned to his previous job at the lobbying and law firm Covington. He reported earning $1.9 million from the firm during part of 2017 and 2018, according to a recently filed 2018 financial disclosure form, and he will be subject to a two-year ban on lobbying Congress, as are all senators in the first two years after leaving office.

Additionally, former Republican Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida and Lamar Smith of Texas are joining the law and lobbying firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld as senior adviser and senior consultant, respectively, the firm announced Monday. They, like all House members leaving the body, are subject to a one-year ban on lobbying Congress.

Former senior Senate GOP leadership aides Hazen Marshall and Monica Popp on Monday unveiled their new lobbying firm, Marshall & Popp. Marshall previously worked for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, while Popp was chief of staff for the Senate whip office under Texas Sen. John Cornyn, who was term-limited from that leadership post at the end of the 115th Congress.

Popp said the new venture offered a rare mix of teaming up with “somebody you respect as a colleague and also a friend.” Both are subject to a one-year ban on lobbying the Senate but are not restricted from offering clients guidance on Senate procedures and personalities, or from lobbying the House or executive branch.

The new firm will focus on tax, health care, budget, energy and other policy matters and will stay small and all-Republican for now. “I don’t think we’ve ruled anything in or out,” Marshall said of the shop’s future.

Meanwhile, Kelley Hudak, former coalitions director for House GOP Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana, joined Cassidy & Associates on Monday as a vice president.

Despite the flurry of moves already this week, former members of Congress, especially those who lost their campaigns in November, and their aides are finding a competitive job market downtown. The ex-lawmakers who have landed so far are those who announced their retirements months ago, while many more are still figuring out their next positions.

“The combination of the large number of people leaving, plus the seniority of the people leaving, meant they had a lot of staff, so there is an unusually large amount of people who are looking for work on K Street at one time,” said Ivan Adler, a lobbying headhunter. “I don’t think compensation will be affected by supply and demand here. There just won’t be a spot for everybody.”

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‘A different environment’

Recently departed members and staff bring with them fresh connections on Capitol Hill, but they also face restrictions on what they can do in the private sector.

Lawmakers and their aides are subject to a one-year ban on aiding or advising foreign governments or foreign political parties with the intent to influence the U.S. government, said Joshua Rosenstein, a partner with Sandler Reiff Lamb Rosenstein & Birkenstock, who specializes in lobbying and ethics laws.

Though recently departed lawmakers and their aides have long sought ways to get around the restrictions, Rosenstein said such matters are getting more attention with recent criminal convictions of people who engaged in unregistered lobbying, such as former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, as well as House Democrats’ pending political overhaul (HR 1) that includes campaign finance, lobbying and ethics matters.

“This may be a different environment than what we had even a year ago,” Rosenstein said. “Public scrutiny is on the rise in terms of advocacy on behalf of foreign clients. And in my view, K Street in general has been treading more carefully in recent months.”

Meanwhile, the job moves this week weren’t limited to recent exits from the Capitol Hill.

Former Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, who left Congress in 2008, said he was signing on to Holland & Knight as a partner in the firm’s public policy and regulation group, leaving his most recent gig as director of federal government affairs at Deloitte.

The Virginia Republican once chaired the House Oversight and Reform Committee, which promises to be a busy panel this Congress as new Chairman Elijah E. Cummings, a Maryland Democrat, has pledged to investigate the executive branch and the private sector alike.

“With Democrats now in the majority in the House, the pace of oversight and investigations will see a dramatic increase,” said Rich Gold, who leads the Holland & Knight public policy and regulation practice. “These investigations will not be limited to the conduct of government officials, but will include vigorous oversight of those corporate entities that profit from their contractual relationships with the government.”

Though Kyl faces a two-year ban on lobbying Congress, he is free to offer background guidance to his colleagues and clients, and may lobby the executive branch, lobbying and ethics experts said. Kyl first joined Covington in March 2013, leaving in September 2018 to fill McCain’s seat. Former Rep. Martha McSally, also a Republican, has since been appointed to the seat.

“Given his profile and depth of experience in Washington, we expect he can make important contributions in a range of matters, particularly for clients in the technology, life sciences, and defense sectors who may face numerous policy challenges in Congress and the executive branch,” said Timothy Hester, Covington’s chairman.

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