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Return to Hill Isn’t Cheap

After years of living in a Republican world, most Democrats on K Street are cashing in on the new political reality.

[IMGCAP(1)]But despite having the opportunity to reel in big clients and bigger paydays with their party controlling Congress and the White House, a number of Democratic lobbyists — some longtime influence-peddlers, others more recent converts — have traded in their “Scarlet Ls— and outsized salaries for a return to Capitol Hill.

The move, at least in the near future, can be painful on their pocketbooks, as some former lobbyists have made clear in financial disclosure reports that reveal their private-sector salaries. Think fewer long lunches at Tosca and more happy hours at Tortilla Coast.

Last year, Jeff Connaughton made about $750,000 in salary and bonuses at the lobby shop Quinn Gillespie & Associates, according to his report to Congress. Connaughton is on pace to make roughly $125,000 this year as chief of staff to Sen. Ted Kaufman (D-Del.).

Connaughton had been with Quinn Gillespie since its inception in 2000. Before that he was a lobbyist at Arnold & Porter. But after years on K Street working for clients like Visa and Verizon Wireless, Connaughton found himself pulled back to Capitol Hill to help fill the void left by his former boss, Vice President Joseph Biden.

Connaughton, like most K Streeters who have returned to Capitol Hill, declined to comment for this story. But when he joined Kaufman’s staff in January, he said the move was all about his dedication to his new boss and had nothing to do with a desire to position himself for an eventual jump to the Obama White House, which has resisted hiring former lobbyists directly from K Street.

“This has everything to do with my relationship with Ted Kaufman,— Connaughton said at the time. “We are very close and I revere him, and the fact that he gets to be in the U.S. Senate is something I can’t pass up.—

Connaughton isn’t the only former Quinn Gillespie lobbyist to head back to Capitol Hill.

Bruce Andrews left a lucrative in-house position as Ford Motor Co.’s chief Democratic lobbyist in March to become general counsel of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. Andrews worked at Quinn Gillespie before joining Ford in 2007. He reported bringing in more than $717,000 in compensation in the 15 months before he returned to Capitol Hill.

Chris McCannell, another Quinn Gillespie lobbyist, returned to Capitol Hill in November to become chief of staff to Rep. Michael McMahon (D-N.Y.). Servicing clients like Bank of America and MetLife, McCannell brought in $400,000 last year at the contract lobby shop.

McCannell said the historic opportunity to work in a Democratic majority with a Democratic White House was a chance he couldn’t pass up. The former chief of staff to Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.) was also attracted to the position given McMahon’s status as a vulnerable Democrat in a seat that Republicans have held for the past 28 years.

While K Streeters who return to Capitol Hill through the revolving door are often criticized, McCannell said his private-sector background was good for his role as a senior aide.

“I think that coming back to the Hill [after being a lobbyist], makes you a better staffer,— McCannell said. “You get to see the other side of the question.—

And despite the initial pay cut, headhunters say the lobbyists-turned-staffers are going to attract more lucrative financial packages if, or when, they cycle back out to the private sector.

“The long-term benefits are huge,— said Ivan Adler, a headhunter at the McCormick Group. “Especially for Democrats involved in health care. Once they do the bill it’s not going to go away.—

While earning less might be tough on one’s psyche, many of the financial pressures of political contributions and paying for fundraising retreats are removed once they return to the Hill.

Of course, those who return to senior positions bear the burden of disclosing their K Street salaries to the public. All staffers who earn a federal government salary at the “senior staff— rate of at least $117,787 must file personal financial disclosures.

The forms, which include salaries, also detail stock investments and former lobbying clients.

Brett Kappel, an ethics lawyer at Arent Fox, said the forms are similar to those that Members of Congress are required to file annually.

“The purpose of these particular financial disclosures are to identify any conflicts of interest that may exist,— Kappel said. “If it’s a lobbyist coming in, conflicts of interest may require recusal from working on specific matters or working with a specific company.—

It’s unclear whether any of the lobbyists coming back to Capitol Hill have recused themselves from particular matters because staff-level recusals are not made public.

Some Democrats returning to Capitol Hill were relative newcomers on K Street.

Luke Albee spent 20 years on Sen. Patrick Leahy’s (D-Vt.) staff, including 11 years as his chief of staff.

Albee joined the lobbying shop Ricchetti Inc. in 2005. Albee took in $547,000 last year, working for clients including Catholic Relief Services, the Association of American Railroads and drug company Novartis.

After less than three years downtown, Albee opted to return to the Senate as Virginia Democrat Mark Warner’s chief of staff.

Albee said the current political environment was a main attraction to rejoin staffer ranks.

“Senator Warner has given me the opportunity to serve at a time when the Senate is tackling some of the most difficult and complicated issues of our time,— Albee said of his decision to return.

Democratic financial services lobbyists also felt the pull to come back as Congress is doing a massive overhaul of the financial regulatory system.

Connecticut Democratic Reps. Jim Himes and Christopher Murphy pulled their chiefs of staff from the banking industry.

Jason Cole, the former executive director of UBS Americas’ U.S. Office of Public Policy, joined the staff of Himes, who is a member of the House Financial Services Committee, in February.

Cole reported earning nearly $270,000 in salary and bonuses last year. He also has a deferred compensation arrangement paying out his 2007 and 2008 bonuses over three years.

Francis Creighton also rejoined Capitol Hill as chief of staff to Murphy after five years in the private sector. Creighton, who most recently was the chief lobbyist at the Mortgage Bankers Association, reported earning about $186,000 last year. He reported making $132,000, which included his salary and accrued vacation time, this year before joining Murphy’s staff in June.

David Grimaldi, who worked as a registered lobbyist at the Raben Group since 2007, is one of the more recent Capitol Hill additions. Grimaldi joined House Majority Whip James Clyburn’s (D-S.C.) staff as senior counsel in June.

As a lobbyist, Grimaldi reported earning more than $172,000 last year with clients including the National Association of Federal Credit Unions.