Tag Teams on K Street
For Members-Turned-Lobbyists, a Former Aide Can Help
The windowless office that Robert Neal shares with his boss looks like the digs of any staffer on Capitol Hill. It’s filled with laptops and piles of papers, and the two colleagues can’t back up their chairs without bumping into each other.
But Neal and former Rep. George Nethercutt (R-Wash.) are no longer on the Congressional payroll. They’ve set up shop in the lobbying sector — together.
Like many former Members of Congress, Nethercutt brought a trusted staffer to help ease the transition from politician to paid consultant.
“Having a former Member with his experience brings so much to the firm,” said Andrew Lundquist, a partner with Nethercutt in Lundquist, Nethercutt and Griles. “Having a staff person come with him is such a bonus. The staffer mentality is great in a consulting firm because those are the people who make things happen on a day-to-day basis.”
Newly retired Members and their aides say that joining a firm or trade association can be a major culture shock and that having familiar faces on the new job can help turn both into effective advocates for their clients.
That isn’t the only benefit. Former Members must abide by a one-year cooling-off period after they leave Congress, during which they are not permitted to lobby anyone in the legislative branch. Their staffers who join them in the private sector, however, are burdened by fewer — if any — restrictions.
For instance, “I can’t lobby the Nethercutt office,” Neal said. But since Nethercutt’s Congressional office no longer exists, he’s free to lobby.
Neal added that the duo’s rapport is about much more than one doing the ground work and the other offering big-picture strategic advice. They know each other’s work styles, strengths and weaknesses.
“There’s a certain amount of assumed knowledge,” he said. “You don’t have to write a long memo” to explain everything.
Much like Nethercutt, former Rep. Jennifer Dunn (R-Wash.) helped bring Lisa LaBrache, a longtime legislative and fundraising aide, to her new job at the law firm DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary.
“Lisa has to live through being 18 staff members all at the same time, because you don’t slow down when you leave the Congress,” Dunn said.
Part of what LaBrache can do, Dunn added, is “the lobbying on the Hill, while the Member can’t do it.” LaBrache said she has “the ability to go up there on her behalf to talk to folks. Both of us will be on the Hill next year.”
At DLA Piper, LaBrache’s duties also include working on the firm’s PAC, one of the largest among law firms.
“I am able to work on client issues and help prep Jennifer for client meetings and coordinate the schedule,” said LaBrache, who worked in Dunn’s legislative shop for 12 years. “If I could clone myself I’d be a happy camper.”
Without LaBrache, Dunn said, her advocacy career would be far less promising. “We add much more value to the firm,” she said.
The same can be true at trade associations, as well.
On Jan. 3, when ex-Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.) reported for work as head of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, he arranged it so he’d see at least three familiar people around the office. His former Chief of Staff Mimi Simoneaux Kneuer, Communications Director Ken Johnson and Special Assistant Byron Patterson were all waiting for him.
Tauzin acknowledged that some existing PhRMA employees were concerned that his Congressional staffers, or members of the group’s lobbying team, would become the new boss’s favorites. Tauzin said he doesn’t play favorites, even though “there are people I know better than others.”
“I have five children,” he said. “I love them all.”
Tauzin added that having aides like Johnson and Kneuer has helped him make the transition from Congressman to CEO.
“Members live a sheltered life — staff does everything for you. So it’s so nice to have people from that old team,” he said.
Working for Tauzin, but in a different location, has helped the staffers adjust, too. “I loved working in Congress. I had a tremendous comfort level there,” said Johnson, a former TV reporter who started working with Tauzin in 1993.
Even though many former Members bring at least one aide with them when they head to the advocacy business, not everyone does.
A one-time aide to former Rep. Jack Quinn (R-N.Y.) already worked at Cassidy and Associates, but that was coincidence. Quinn didn’t bring anyone directly, but he said that had a lot to do with the type of firm he was joining.
“Because there are over 50 professional lobbyists here, we’ve literally got every field covered,” he said. “When you start your own firm, then I think you really need to take people with you.”
Former Senate Majority Whip Don Nickles (R-Okla.), for one, brought a cadre of assistants with him, including Hazen Marshall and Stacey Hughes, when he started the Nickles Group.
Patton Boggs, like Cassidy one of the biggest firms in town, certainly has a long roster of lobbyists. But after spending three decades on Capitol Hill, former Sen. John Breaux (D-La.) said it was crucial for him to bring his Congressional assistant Diana Bostic to the firm.
“I wouldn’t know what to do without her,” Breaux said. “I had to have somebody keep track of me.”
On Capitol Hill, Bostic was responsible for Breaux’s schedule. But at the firm, she has taken on more duties. “She’s not representing clients or anything of that nature, but she is coordinating a lot more than ever,” Breaux said.
Breaux and Bostic said that after experiencing the convivial atmosphere of the Congressional office, it hasn’t been easy adjusting to the culture of a big law firm.
“We can kind of get together in the corner and commiserate,” Breaux said. “I’ve spent a lot of time trying to keep her from jumping off the eighth floor.”
Bostic said the duo is bringing a more boisterous atmosphere, similar to the Senate office, to their floor on Patton Boggs.
Of course, this year’s crop of retired Members isn’t the first to bring their Hill aides along.
When former Rep. Bill Paxon (R-N.Y.) joined Akin Gump Strauss Hauer and Feld in 1999, higher-ups at the firm encouraged him to hire an assistant, he said.
“I had not frankly given it a lot of thought. I was like every former Member — you’re closing down your offices,” Paxon said. “The first thing I did was pick up the phone and call Anthony.”
That’s Anthony Foti, Paxon’s former Congressional district director, who at the time of Paxon’s phone call had just taken a job with the New York state Assembly and was running for the Amherst, N.Y., town board.
Paxon said he told Foti: “You have to quit, and you and your wife have to move to Washington.”
Foti said that 68 inches of snow helped him, and his wife, make the decision. “I stuck a for-sale sign on my house, which was immediately buried in snow,” he recalled.
Paxon said Foti’s capabilities quickly surpassed that of assistant to the one-time Congressman.
“While he has been critically important in everything I’ve been able to do at Akin Gump, he has been a tremendous asset in his own right to the firm,” Paxon said. “He has the same title I have at the firm. Not a day goes by — and I say this with some trepidation because I don’t want him to want a bigger office or more money — that key leaders of the firm don’t say ‘Anthony is the best’ and ‘You’re nothing without him.’”