Where are they now? Lucrative lobbying gigs, other jobs landed by newly-former lawmakers
“I think that American people should know that the members of Congress are underpaid,” said Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) in April 2014, having recently announced his retirement from the House.
To be fair, he was discussing the results of an annual House vote on adjusting lawmaker pay: Each year, Congress can give itself a raise to keep up with rising costs of living, but — with lawmakers wary of casting a vote that could so obviously be used against them in a campaign — it has voted against doing so since increasing the salary of rank-and-file lawmakers from $169,300 to $174,000 in 2009.
Luckily for Moran and others exiting Capitol Hill, there’s money to be made with government credentials. In early 2014, the Sunlight Foundation estimated that while lobbyists made a median of nearly $180,000 in lobbying revenue in 2012, the median for lobbyists with government experience was $300,000. No doubt aware of his earning potential, Moran went on to lobby for McDermott, Will and Emery. Among his clients in 2016 was Boeing Co., which contributed $156,000 to his campaign committee over the course of his career, making the company his third-biggest donor.
Also keen on representing Boeing is former Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), who lost his re-election bid to Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) last November. Kirk has said that he’s considering opening up a lobbying shop, and that he’s “already talked to Boeing.” And why not, when Boeing spent more than $17 million lobbying in 2016, with its average lobbying contract worth nearly $172,000?
With their treasure troves of connections and policymaking know-how, former lawmakers are hot commodities for lobbying firms. And while ex-representatives must wait one year, and ex-senators two years, before lobbying their former colleagues, that doesn’t stop them from laying the groundwork for lobbying careers.
As long as individuals don’t exceed certain thresholds based on compensation and time spent on clients, they can carry out lobbying-esque work during their cooling-off period; “strategic adviser” is a typical title for these ex-lawmakers in the early days of their new careers. That, according to Brendan Fischer, director of the Campaign Legal Center’s federal and FEC reform program, makes the mandated waiting periods “fairly easy” to get around. In addition, there’s no restriction on former senators or House members lobbying the executive branch.
Several other lawmakers who left the Hill in January have joined Kirk in exploring their options on the other side of the revolving door. Former Rep. Charles Boustany (R-La.) is now with Capitol Counsel, former Rep. Ander Crenshaw (R-Fla.) is senior counsel at King and Spalding, former Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) is co-chairman of Mercury (his clients include the American Chemistry Council, the Atlantic Development Group and Cabot Corp.) and former Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) is “senior legislative advisor” at the same firm where Moran landed, McDermott, Will and Emery.
Then there’s former Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio), who resigned in 2015 and is now a senior strategic advisor at lobbying powerhouse Squire Patton Boggs. He’s also on the board of Reynolds American, the nation’s second-largest tobacco company and producer of brands like Camel, Newport, Pall Mall and Kent. Boehner was big tobacco’s prime recipient of campaign contributions in the 2014 cycle, the last one in which he ran for re-election; he received more than $130,000 from the industry then.
Critics of this path for former lawmakers worry that the prospect of future employment can skew how they behave while they’re still on the public payroll.
“The prospect of a lucrative post-government career can create warped incentives while a member is still in office,” Fischer wrote in an email. “[A] current member’s position on an issue may not be motivated by what’s best for their constituents or the country, but based on what’s going to curry favor with a future employer. More broadly, the revolving door helps contribute to a permanent political class that creates distance between the people who run government and the people they are supposed to serve.”
Moran, though, explains that he was true to his values in Congress, and continues to be so in his advising role. “One of the reasons that I chose McDermott, Will and Emery has borne out, and that is that they weren’t going to ask me to work on anything that I didn’t believe in,” he said. “Those who have different points of view would probably represent a different corporation or interest, but if I talk to a member, I’m not going to ask them to do something that I don’t believe is in their interest or the interest of their constituents. And that’s why they would spend time with me, and engage in extended conversation: Because they, I hope, would trust that that would always be the case.”
As for what drew him to his new career after 24 years in Congress: “I figured that if I go with a firm I can concentrate on fewer issues, I can spend more time with my children, and I could even afford to own a home,” he said.
Lobbying might be an especially lucrative career path, but it isn’t the only line of work that awaits former lawmakers. Former Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) and former Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) both now work in the federal government — Coats is the director of National Intelligence, and Fleming’s the deputy assistant secretary for health technology at HHS. Former Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), on the other hand, founded PAC for a Change, and is raising money to target competitive Senate races.
Outgoing lawmakers intent on staying in the public sector, like former Rep. Candice Miller (R-Mich.), can also transition to state or local government; she’s now the public works commissioner of Macomb County, Michigan.
But for those eager to leave the government and its dealings behind, the private sector is rich with opportunity. Former Rep. Brad Ashford (D-Neb.), for example, was scooped up by Midtown Vision 2050, a development company looking to build up a portion of Omaha, Nebraska — the largest city in Ashford’s one-time district.
Alternatively, four outgoing lawmakers are headed back to school, having accepted university gigs: Former Reps. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.) and Robert Hurt (R-Va.), as well as former Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.). But academia and lobbying have plenty of overlap: While Mikulski and Israel are settling into academically-oriented posts — Israel at Long Island Univeristy as chairman of the LIU Global Institute and distinguished writer in residence, and Mikulski as professor of public policy and adviser to the university’s president at Johns Hopkins University — Salmon has taken the role of vice president for government affairs at Arizona State University and Hurt will lead Liberty University’s Center for Law and Government, which aims “to influence public policy in America and to celebrate and spread conservative ideals.”
To see the full list of the 114th Congress’ outgoing members, follow this link. We’ll update the page as we learn how the former lawmakers choose to lead their post-congressional careers.
House and Senate staffers who recently gave up — by necessity or voluntarily — their congressional work-spaces are another story, and one we’ll tell soon.
Researcher Dan Auble wrote this post.