K Street Craves Top-Tier Republican Hill Aides

Posted September 17, 2010 at 6:00pm

Republicans’ all-but-certain House and Senate electoral gains this fall already are evident at downtown trade associations, lobbying shops and corporate offices, where hiring bosses are quickly assembling wish lists of GOP staffers who may opt for greener pastures come Nov. 3.

“The pendulum is definitely swinging in favor of the GOP, especially when you look at the folks coming off the Hill,” said Liza Wright, a former George W. Bush administration official and co-founder of the executive search firm Lochlin Partners.

Lobbyists, corporate executives and headhunters interviewed for this article were nearly unanimous in their top recruits, prospects who may not be inclined to leave their government posts immediately but who are nonetheless highly coveted for their close relationships with Republican leaders.

Sitting near the top of most lists were Mike Sommers, Barry Jackson and Jay Cranford, who work for House Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio).

Hill staffers Neil Bradley, Steve Stombres and Cheryl Jaeger also are highly prized for their proximity to Minority Whip Eric Cantor (Ohio), as are House Ways and Means Committee aides Jon Traub and Dave Olander to their boss, ranking member Dave Camp (Mich.).

Although the chamber is less likely to flip, Sharon Soderstrom, Libby Jarvis, Rohit Kumar and other senior staffers for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) also may soon be chewing on generous offers, although they are not expected to leave the Hill this year.

“The demand for Republicans has already gone up and will continue — even under a bad scenario,” a senior Republican lobbyist said. “Everybody knows that the Democratic Washington that happened during this Congress is in the past tense.

“Even if the majority doesn’t switch,” the source added, “it’s going to be more evenly split.”

Money Talks

Although salaries vary from job to job, House Republican staffers with 10 or more years of committee or leadership experience can expect to make at least $250,000 per year depending on where they land, a source said.

Lobbying shops tend to offer higher starting salaries but are unable to offer potentially lucrative stock options that corporations sometimes provide to their K Street hands as part of overall compensation packages.

“The market is rich right now. There are a lot of positions open, and certainly for Republicans — especially for senior-level people — there’s a premium,” Wright said.

At top firms, it’s not unthinkable for high-level GOP staffers to field offers for $750,000 or more, depending on their area of expertise. Still, for aides coming right off the Hill, the range from job to job can be dramatic.

“There are some unrealistic expectations out there,” a lobbying recruiter said.

Headhunters and K Street executives are preparing themselves for a deluge of hungry rank-and-file Republican staffers looking to make a buck after spending four years in the political wilderness.

“It’s going to be a mosh pit,” a Republican lobbyist said.

Business as Usual

Perhaps adding to the crush downtown, many K Street sources argued, Republicans are generally more sympathetic to business interests and come to the table with fewer qualms about representing corporate America than their Democratic counterparts.

“Democrats don’t like to go to K Street as much as Republicans do,” another K Street recruiter said. Republicans “don’t care. They will work for oil, energy, gas, PhRMA, insurance, cigarette companies, gambling. It’d take something pretty damn bad for them not to do it.

“It has been much more difficult to recruit Democrats because of a philosophical point of view,” the source continued. “It was very hard to recruit them for health care. It was impossible to recruit them for health insurance.”

Out of the Wilderness

As GOP Hill aides are being highly sought, some former Bush administration officials are also expected to see their stocks rise this fall. Bush White House economic adviser Keith Hennessey, Office of Management and Budget Deputy Director Steve McMillin and their lesser-known colleagues may see bigger offers coming their way if the GOP makes sufficient gains in Congress.

“Last year was a tough year for Bush people coming out of the administration,” Wright said.

Another prospective tranche of fall and winter GOP recruits is already established on K Street, including AdvaMed’s Brett Loper and Time Warner’s Tim Berry.

The phones of departing Rep. Bob Inglis (R-S.C.) and Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) also are likely to be ringing continually after Election Day, when the 2011 hiring process is expected to begin in earnest.

Wright said lobbying firms in particular are eager to add Republicans for the new Congress, especially insiders with intimate knowledge of Democrats’ two recent legislative victories.

“What I’m seeing right now, overall, there’s a big premium for folks with experience in health care or financial reform,” she said.