Retired staffers land on their feet, several already on K Street

A picture of K Street and Capitol Hill shaking hands.
Graphic credit: Tiina Knuutila/Sunlight Foundation

In their series this week on the growing influence of revolving door lobbyists, Sunlight’s Lee Drutman and Alexander Furnas sifted the data to document how experience in a high-level position on Capitol Hill can make a retiring congressional staffer a hot commodity in the private sector.

Just how hot of a commodity? To find out, we decided to look at some fresh case studies. Using Sunlight’s lobbying tracker, our database of congressional payroll data and old-fashioned reporting, we checked up on where senior Hill staffers who just became legal to lobby have landed.

Just looking at a handful of the highest paid former staffers from the House and Senate turned up several instances of Hill veterans finding work in the “government relations” (read: lobbying) industry almost immediately upon leaving their congressional posts.

Government connections mean high salaries, particularly for the increasing number of staffers who make the jump to K Street. Though overall lobbying revenues have shrunk in recent years — thanks in part to congressional dysfunction — revolvers are doing well.

The Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007 requires members of Congress and former congressional staffers to go through a “cooling-off period” upon leaving the Hill before they may legally lobby. This period lasts two years for senators, and one year for retiring members and staffers from the House of Representatives. Senate staffers also must wait one year before lobbying in their former chamber.

In January, Sunlight noted that almost 250 former staffers and members became legal to lobby during first week of the new year — many of whom had already landed lucrative new gigs. But it turns out they’re not the only ones enjoying the job opportunities that come along with experience on the Hill.

Upon researching the new positions of five of the highest-paid staffers from both the House and Senate whose cooling-off period ended during the first week of 2014, we found several of these former congressional employees who are already working in a lobbying post — some were hired just months after their retirement, though it’s only this year that they may officially register to lobby.1

James Coon, a veteran of the House Transportation Committee and former staff director of the Aviation subcommittee, will helm the government affairs division of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. The group spent more than $2.9 million lobbying in 2012, Open Secrets records show. Julia Massimino, following the footsteps of her former boss, Rep. Howard Berman — now a senior sdvisor at powerhouse lobby shop Covington & Burling — took the reins of Soundexchange’s newly minted Global Public Policy Division in July of last year. Clarine Riddle, former Attorney General of Connecticut and Chief of Staff and campaign advisor to Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., will join the former senator at law firm Kasowitz, Benson Torres and Friedman, where she now chairs the firm’s government affairs practice.

Sunlight could not find information on the new positions of Joan Akai, Mike Kitamura or Geri Gaginis — the only Executive Assistant on the list. Know where they are? Email us here.

Tim Smith was charged with sexual assault in September.