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These are the soon-to-be former members K Street wants to woo

Firms seek expertise and influence, but some need not apply

Retiring Texas Republican Rep. Kevin Brady is in demand as a former chairman and ranking member of the House Ways and Means Committee.
Retiring Texas Republican Rep. Kevin Brady is in demand as a former chairman and ranking member of the House Ways and Means Committee. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Texas Rep. Kevin Brady, a former chairman of the Ways and Means panel, enjoys something of a standing invitation on K Street. 

Should he decide to join the influence business when he leaves the House in January after 13 terms, the Republican is likely to field multiple job offers with a salary in excess of $1 million, according to lobbyists and headhunters. 

As K Street takes stock of the crop of soon-to-be-ex-members of Congress, not all who are retiring or have lost their races will fare so well. Some of the departing lawmakers, such as Texas GOP Rep. Louie Gohmert or North Carolina Republican Rep. Madison Cawthorn, may be too controversial for the more staid, buttoned-down lobbying community. 

The divided government and narrow margins in the House and Senate, a recipe for stalemate, along with uncertainty about the economy next year may also limit the market for members and aides seeking to make a turn through the revolving door between Congress and K Street.  

Still, headhunters and lobbyists in charge of recruiting for downtown gigs say a number of exiting members may find overtures from K Street. 

“First of all, there is a lot of interest from K Street in this group of members who are leaving,” said Ivan Adler, a longtime K Street recruiter. “That is bipartisan and bicameral, especially those folks that are from the oversight committees, like Energy and Commerce, and Ways and Means. And I would say that holds true for senior-level staff of those committees as well.”

Though these members may not have indicated any interest in going downtown, lobbyists and headhunters say names on their wish lists include departing GOP Sens. Roy Blunt of Missouri and Rob Portman of Ohio; Rep. Tim Ryan, the Democrat who lost his Senate race in Ohio; Rep. Ed Perlmutter, a Colorado Democrat whose committee assignments include Financial Services; and moderate Democratic Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Florida, whose committee assignments include Financial Services and Armed Services. Another moderate, business-friendly Blue Dog Democrat, Rep. Kurt Schrader, who lost his Oregon seat in a primary and serves on Energy and Commerce, is likely to find a K Street gig, should he seek one. 

Illinois GOP Rep. Rodney Davis, who lost a primary to fellow Rep. Mary Miller, is another one, given not only his tenure as a member but also his background as a congressional aide. Like Brady, retiring Rep. Fred Upton, a Michigan Republican who previously chaired the Energy and Commerce panel, is expected to be sought after. 

House members generally may command $500,000 to $1 million-plus, while bidding typically starts at $1 million for departing senators, though it depends on the gig itself (full time vs. part time) and how hard the former member plans to work, including generating new business for multiclient firms or running a trade association or corporate office. 

Kevin Brady, I think he’ll be a hot commodity,” said Marc Lampkin, who co-chairs the lobbying practice at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck. “Some of the Democrats who are retiring will also be people that will be highly sought after.” 

Brady said Wednesday that he had not yet made any decisions about his post-Congress employment. “Because I’m negotiating the end-of-the-year tax rate and health care provision, I don’t want any conflict. So we’ll start thinking about it in January.” He said he would likely explore options in the policy areas he’s focused on in the House.

“I love the economic, tax, trade, health care areas, so hopefully it’s in those areas that I love,” he said. 

When lawmakers enter into salary negotiations with future employers, they are supposed to file a disclosure form. No new such disclosures were on file with either the Senate or House as of late Wednesday. Very few do file the disclosures, however, even as lawmakers regularly move from Capitol Hill to the private sector. 

Check the boxes

Mark Williams, a former House GOP aide who is now a partner with the bipartisan lobby firm Ferox Strategies, said shops would have to assess what a former member might bring to the venture. 

“They have to check a couple of boxes,” Williams said. “Are they going to be well liked in the conference? Can they help generate business on the outside? Just like any potential employee, there’s a mixed bag.”  

K Street is preparing for an active 118th Congress, even if legislative gridlock dominates. House Republicans are likely to focus on oversight and investigations that, while targeting the administration, may well rope in corporations. 

“I think that it will continue to be a busy time on K Street,” Adler said. “Whenever the gavels change, it’s usually good for business, and there continues to be a desire in hiring. I’m hearing from firms that they remain busy and are desirous of hiring the right talent to make sure they can take care of their clients.”

Given the frequent flips in party control on Capitol Hill, firms don’t live solely by the whims of the electorate and therefore aren’t necessarily in a state of scramble.

“For us, we always look for talent regardless of time, and we feel like we’re really well positioned on both sides of the aisle,” said Lindley Kratovil Sherer, a lobbyist at the bipartisan firm Invariant who is a former chief of staff to House Republican Conference Chairwoman Elise Stefanik of New York. “But we are always looking for incredible talent, no doubt.”

Economic headwinds

Lobbyists remain on alert about the overall economy. 

“Now if the economy goes bad, that’s a different story,” Adler, the headhunter, said. 

Rich Gold, who runs the lobbying practice at Holland & Knight, said he does not believe 2023 will present the “robust market” that K Street was for Democrats at the start of 2021. He recalled a quote he invoked in 2011 and 2012 that “flat is the new up for lobbying revenues” and said that may become the mantra yet again.  

“It sort of feels we’re almost at that point next year,” Gold said. 

He noted the coming farm bill next year, negotiations around a reauthorization of the 2017 tax overhaul as well as House Republicans’ interest in energy legislation, among other issues. But, he said, a slim majority for House Republicans “makes the art of the doable pretty difficult.” 

All that means, he said, that “this is not going to be everybody finds a seat when the music stops. Members with strong skill sets will be in high demand, but it’s not the case that everybody is going to find something.”

Mary Ellen McIntire contributed to this report.

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