WASHINGTON — Sen. Chris Dodd says he still doesn’t know what he’ll do come January 2011, when, for the first time in 36 years, he will no longer be a member of Congress. But he has ruled out one option.
“No lobbying, no lobbying,” Dodd said in a recent interview. That Dodd would forgo a trip through Washington’s “revolving door,” using his policy and political expertise–and a thick Rolodex–to launch a new career in the influence industry, may come as a surprise.
For one thing, more than 300 former House and Senate members have chosen that well-worn, lucrative path, according to a tally by the Center for Responsive Politics. The list of those who have gone from Capitol Hill to K Street includes many from Connecticut, including ex-Reps. Nancy Johnson, Barbara Kennelly, Toby Moffett and Bruce Morrison. Others, such as former Reps. William Ratchford and Ron Sarasin, have worked as lobbyists but are no longer registered.
Even former Republican Rep. Chris Shays, a leading voice in Congress for stronger ethics and campaign finance laws, said he wouldn’t close off the possibility of becoming a lobbyist.
“I made a decision that if I became a lobbyist, I would wait two years,” said Shays, who was defeated in the 2008 election. (There’s a one-year ban on lawmakers becoming lobbyists, although many work as “strategic consultants” or advisers before that cooling off period ends.)
Shays is currently serving as co-chair of the federal Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan, a bipartisan group created to examine U.S. defense contracting policies. Even though lobbying is not something he’s actively considering now, Shays said, “I would never rule it out.”
In fact, most of the former members of Congress from Connecticut now working as lobbyists said they initially had no intention of taking that path.
“I did not want to stay in Washington. I had no interest,” said Moffett, who served in the House from 1975 through 1982 and then, after losing a Senate bid, returned to Connecticut to become a television news anchor. But after several years in the news business followed by an unsuccessful House campaign in 1990, Moffett made his way back to Washington as a lobbyist-in no small part because of the opportunity to make more money.
“I was like 47, and I had six children, five of them little,” Moffett said. “I said it’s time to do something different. And clearly you’re going to make more money, even if you’re not that good.”
Moffett, of course, says he is good. He and several other former Connecticut lawmakers are raking in hundreds of thousands of dollars for their firms. And despite the negative connotation around their post-Congressional career choice, they all clearly love the lobbying life.
“It’s natural,” ex-Rep. Barbara Kennelly said of her decision to remain in D.C. and do advocacy work. “I never thought I was going to stay, but you start looking for a job, and what do you know? You know what you have been doing.”
After 17 years in Congress and two years in the Clinton Administration, Kennelly jumped to a major Washington law and lobbying firm as a consultant. Then a headhunter sought her out for the top job at the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, a major D.C. advocacy group dedicated to protecting those two federal entitlement programs. It was a perfect fit, she said, because she had focused so much on bolstering those two programs in Congress and at the White House.
Kennelly now oversees a sophisticated political operation at the National Committee, which spent more than $1 million on lobbying last year and has doled out another $1 million in political action committee donations so far this election.
Moreover, just as when she was Connecticut’s 1st District congresswoman, Kennelly finds herself immersed in the major policy battles of the day, such as the current wrangling over how to rein in federal spending. She is “constantly” attending fundraisers and traveling around the country to make political endorsements or attend events with key lawmakers, many of them her former colleagues.
Ditto for Nancy Johnson, who is as involved with federal health care issues now as when she chaired the House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee. A 24-year House veteran, Johnson is now lobbyist at one of Washington’s most venerable firms, working the Hill and the Executive Branch on behalf of a bevy of health care companies and other private-sector clients.
As with Kennelly and Moffett, Johnson said she never intended to become a lobbyist. But when the top brass at Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz started courting her, she realized she would love the work, which she says is more “strategic advising” than lobbying. That’s Washington-speak for telling businesses how to work the political system in the nation’s capital-who the key players are and how to pitch a legislative request.
But Johnson also still spends plenty of time walking the halls of Congress. She is registered to lobby for about a half-dozen clients that have paid her firm nearly $350,000 in the first half of 2010. During the health care reform debate, for example, she took one of her clients, CentriHealth Inc., to meetings with key staff on the House and Senate committees drafting the legislation.
CentriHealth sells information technology systems to health providers so they can create a single digital record for a patient. And the company wanted to make sure the legislation called for “interoperability,” the capacity for doctors and hospitals to update a patient’s records electronically even if they were working in different offices or provider networks, so its product could become more widespread.
Johnson and her client won key changes to the bill, nixing vague standards on electronic health records in favor of specific ones requiring interoperability. “They didn’t realize how far the industry had gone” in technological innovations, Johnson said of the congressional staff writing the bill. “If you don’t have interoperability, you won’t have an accurate health record.”
Johnson said the doors to power in Washington “have all been very open to me,” because of her expertise on health care and other issues, not to mention her personal connections to one-time congressional colleagues.
Bruce Morrison said he got into the lobbying business because he felt like it was the best way to “stay engaged in advocating for good policy.” He spends about half his time lobbying on financial services issues and the other half on immigration.
In the House, Morrison chaired a House subcommittee on immigration and co-authored the 1990 Immigration Act. Now, he represents the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform, pressing lawmakers to ease the entry requirements for Irish citizens coming to the U.S. That effort builds on the 1990 immigration law, which, among other things, set aside 48,000 new visas for people from Ireland. Morrison also lobbies for the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc., which wants Congress to make it easier for foreign-born engineers to earn green cards-and not temporary visas-when working in the U.S.
His financial service clients include the Norwalk-based Financial Accounting Standards Board and Essent, a new mortgage insurance company. In all, Morrison’s firm, which he runs with his wife and one of his former congressional aides, has earned more than $500,000 in fees from about 14 clients, lobbying records show.
Moffett said he chooses his clients to match his political philosophy, which means he only lobbies Democrats. But he often pairs up with other firms who have Republican ties and can press a client’s case with GOP lawmakers. His current roster of clients includes the Interactive Gaming Council, a renewable energy company, and the governments of Egypt, Morocco and Kenya.
Moffett said that being a former House member does help him get access, but only so much. “I can get one foot in the door that other people perhaps can’t,” he said, “but I can’t get both feet in the door unless I know what I’m talking about.”
He said he loves the work because, “you’re in the fast lane of issues,” something he also felt when he was in the House.
The downside? That’s also the same as when he was an elected official. “The mix between money and politics,” he said. “It’s obscene. It’s just means you get 150 emails and phone calls a day from people begging for money.”
Johnson and Kennelly said they, too, still spend a good deal of time going to fundraisers and receptions. But they don’t mind that too much.
“I love it,” Kennelly said. “I get to see my friends … And I’m a political animal, there’s no doubt about it.”