Revolving Door Spins Between Hill, Downtown

Posted December 24, 2010 at 11:28am

The K Street job market is in a frenzy.

Some lobbyists have decamped for Capitol Hill. Other K Streeters are switching firms. And a whole crop of out-of-work Members of Congress and staffers are in the hunt.

Don’t expect it to calm down in January, either.

“It’s been awhile since I can remember this much movement, certainly on the Democratic side but on both sides — everybody’s readjusting,” said Andy Rosenberg, a Democratic lobbyist and partner at Thorn Run Partners. “It’s a really fluid situation for a lot of people in a variety of areas.”

With control of the House changing hands from Democratic to Republican and a lot of job moves in the association world, lobbyists say this is a time of natural transition. In addition, clients are trying to figure out what in-house and outside K Street help they will need to navigate the 112th Congress.

“Everybody in town is looking to re-evaluate to see what next year means,” Rosenberg said. “The notion that we’re going to be in a gridlocked, do-nothing environment has been shattered by the very active lame duck.”

K Street headhunter Ivan Adler, who is with the McCormick Group, agrees with Rosenberg.

“The music has stopped, and people are running for the chairs,” he said. “You are seeing people leave K Street and go back to the Hill. Change is always good because there’ll be open spots, especially for Republicans.”

Adler expects a flurry of new job announcements right after Congress comes back into session in January from ex-Members of Congress to rank-and-file staffers landing downtown jobs.

“We’re in the process of hiring eight new lobbyists and policy advocates, the last of which will join us the end of January,” explained Richard Gold, the lobbying practice group leader at Holland & Knight. “So it’s been a very busy final quarter for us and the beginning of 2011 will mark the completion of the recruiting phase and turn our focus to integration.”

Democratic lobbyist Steve Elmendorf also said the success of the lame-duck session dispelled the perception that little will get done next year.

“I don’t think there will gridlock,” Elmendorf said, which he added was “good for business.”

However, Elmendorf differed from some of his lobbyist colleagues in that he did not believe the extent of job changing on K Street was extraordinary.

“There is always a churn,” he said.

A number of high-profile associations and companies have hung help wanted signs for top spots.

The Motion Picture Association of America has been searching for a new chief since January when Dan Glickman announced he was departing. While a number of prominent names have been floated to be president of the MPAA, including outgoing Democratic Sen. Chris Dodd (Conn.) and outgoing New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D), the chief job lobbying on behalf of Hollywood studios remains unfilled. Talks with former Sen. Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.) to take the job fell apart last summer.

The top job at the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers unexpectedly became available this month when the group’s president, former Oklahoma Democratic Rep. Dave McCurdy was tapped to be the next president and CEO of the American Gas Association.

The lure of working for the new GOP majority in Congress is creating some choice lobbyist openings. The Advanced Medical Technology Association lost its lobbyist Brett Loper, who is returning to Capitol Hill to become policy director for Speaker-designate John Boehner(R-Ohio). Time Warner lobbyist Tim Berry also is leaving to become chief of staff to Majority Whip-designate Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).

Other groups have had vacancies on their Washington teams for months, including Toyota, whose top lobbyist, Josephine Cooper, left Oct. 1. The Generic Pharmaceutical Association has been without a permanent CEO since Kathleen Jaeger left this summer. The generic drug group has delayed filling the top job as it undergoes a reorganization and tries to patch up relations with the generic drug giant Teva that recently left the association.

While trade associations are under pressure to fill top spots before the new Congress convenes next month, some concede they may have to manage without new leadership for the time being.

Wade Newton, the spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said the group is already preparing to focus on possible auto safety legislation and fuel efficiency measures in the new session. The association, which represents foreign and domestic automobile manufacturers, has not announced a timetable for picking a new chief. John Whatley, the vice president and general counsel, has been named as interim CEO.

“Whether you have a CEO or not, you have big issues you are still messaging,” Newton said.