This post was written by Lee Drutman, senior fellow at the Sunlight Foundation
The revolving door is alive and well in Washington. In less than three years, at least 378 House staffers employed in personal and committee offices have left Capitol Hill to become registered lobbyists, a Sunlight Foundation analysis of U.S. House disbursement data and federal lobbying records finds.
More than two in five former House staffers who registered as lobbyists went to one of Washington's many lobbying firms. One in five went to lobby for a for-profit corporation, and another one in five went to lobby for a business or trade association. In other words, corporate America is capturing the lion's share of former Hill staffers' expertise. A large number also represent state and local governments and universities in their work for lobbying firms.
These lobbyists come from all rungs of the House hierarchy. The 378 staffers who left to lobby included 50 legislative assistants, 32 chiefs of staff, 26 legislative directors, and 22 staff assistants.
Many lobbyists came from committees as well. The Committee with the clearest path to K Street was the Financial Services Committee, where nine of 71 staffers (12.7%) went off to lobby within two years, followed closely by Judiciary (9.0%) and Oversight and Government Reform (8.7%).
Congress's loss is the private sector's gain. When House offices lose staffers who have built up experience and relationships in Congress, private interests gain both their policy knowhow and their political networks. Meanwhile, the House offices often find themselves relying on the expertise of their former staffers who are now in the employ of private interests.
Recently, we noted that the average House office had a retention rate of 64.2% over a two-year period. Although the majority of departing staff do not move to K Street, 378 staffers is still a significant number.
For a complete list of all the staffers who registered to lobby, what office they worked in, and where they went to lobby, click here.
WHERE STAFFERS GO ON K STREET
More than 80% of former Hill staffers who leave to lobby take jobs at Washington lobbying firms (41.5%), individual corporations (21.3%) and business and trade associations (19.1%).
By comparison, fewer than one in ten go to work for a non-profit advocacy group. Only a single former House staffer went to work for a labor union, though a few do represent unions as part of their work with Washington lobbying firms. Some (5.1%) went to work for occupational associations, such as the American Dental Association or the International Association of Fire Chiefs; another nine went to work for institutions, mostly universities.
It's important to emphasize that this analysis is limited to registered lobbying. If former House staffers joined advocacy organizations but did not register as lobbyists, they will not show up in these tabulations.
Figure 1. Where staffers who become lobbyists go to lobby
graphic by Ali Felski
If we look at the employment destinations by position in the House, we can see some different career paths. While 56.2% of chiefs of staff who became lobbyists joined Washington lobbying firms, only 30.8% of legislative directors and 23.1% of legislative assistants who registered as lobbyists did so for a lobbying firms
Legislative directors who go downtown are about equally likely to wind up in a lobbying firm, a corporation, or a business or trade association. Legislative assistants are most likely to wind up in a business or trade association.
Non-profit advocacy, meanwhile, did not attract a single chief of staff, but it did attract two of the 26 legislative directors going to lobby and five of the 52 legislative assistants.
Generally, work in a lobbying firm offers individuals the opportunity to make the most money, though it also generally requires the most work. Some individuals prefer the stability or predictability of a corporation or a trade association, where one does not have to shift between multiple clients and does not have to hustle for new business.
Figure 2. Where staffers who become lobbyists go to lobby, by position
graphic by Ali Felski
REPRESENTATION BY SECTOR
What types of interests do these former staffers represent? In order to answer this question, we added up the number of lobbying contracts that mentioned these staffers. State and local governments top the list, with 295 contracts, followed closely by pharmaceutical companies at 263, education (mostly universities) at 261, computers/internet at 226, and electric utilities at 192.
Table 1. Sectors former House staffers represent
Certainly, there are different ways to cut these numbers. Telephone utilities, for example spent $253 million on contracts that included these lobbyists, as compared to state and local governments, which spent $38 million, although there were many more contracts involving state and local governments.
A LOOK AT WHO GOES TO BECOME A LOBBYIST
Among the staffers who left, about two-thirds (243) previously worked in member personal offices. Of these individuals, 60.5% (147) came from Democratic offices, as compared to 39.5% (96) from Republicans. Much of this disparity, however, has to do with the fact that the Democrats lost 63 seats in the 2010 mid-term elections, putting hundreds of Democratic staffers out of work.
Among the 147 Democratic staffers who left to become lobbyists, 63 (43%) worked for members who were defeated or retired in 2010.Of member staffers-turned-lobbyists, 32% (77) came from offices where members were defeated or retired; the remaining 68% (166) worked for members who are still in office.
Table 2. Partisanship and member status of staffers turned lobbyists
Four members of Congress sent at least four staffer to the ranks of registered lobbyists since 2009: Michael A. Arcuri (D-NY, 5), Adam Putnam (R-FL, 4), Chellie Pingree (D-Maine, 4), and Laura Richardson (D-CA, 4). Arcuri and Putnam are no longer in Congress. Both Arcuri and Richardson were on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Putnam was on the Financial Services Committee. Pingree is the former head of Common Cause. Table 5 shows the members at least three staff who became lobbyists.Almost 40% (177) of the House offices in 2009 had at least one staffer become a lobbyist by 2011, and 11% (49) sent at least two individuals to become lobbyists.
Table 3. Members with highest rates of staff going to lobby
Some committees are more likely to generate future lobbyists than others. Perhaps not surprisingly, the House committee with the highest percentage of former staffers going to lobby was the Financial Services Committee, where nine of 71 staffers (12.7%) went off to lobby. The Financial Services Committee handled the Dodd-Frank bill, which will continue to generate major lobbying activity for years as financial regulatory agencies work their way through the approximately 400 rulemaking the bill calls for. The Judiciary (9.0%) and Oversight and Government Reform (8.7%) had the next highest rates. Appropriations sent the most individuals to lobby (11, out of 145 staffers).
Table 4. Rate of staffers becoming lobbyists, by committee/leadership offices
Certain positions were more likely to lead to future work as a lobbyist than others. The 378 staffers employed in the House in 2009 who left to lobby included 50 legislative assistants, 32 chiefs of staff, 26 legislative directors, and 22 staff assistants. Of the 25 most common staff titles, the titles most likely to lead to staffers becoming lobbyists within the 2-year period were "Counsel" (11.2% became lobbyists), "Legislative Director" (8.9% became lobbyists), and "Legislative Counsel" (8.8% became lobbyists). Eight percent of both the chiefs of staff and the deputy chiefs of staff employed in mid-2009 became lobbyists. Interestingly, as we noted in our recent analysis of House operating budget cuts, salaries for "Counsel" positions had suffered the most between 2009 and 2011, down 5.8%. There is probably some connection.
Table 5. Rate of staffers becoming lobbyists, by selected positions
The revolving door continues to spin. Since July 2009, almost 400 individuals employed as House staffers at the time have left to become registered lobbyists, primarily working for lobbying firms, corporations, and business associations. In many respects, Congress continues to operate as a farm team for future lobbyists. Staff build up contacts and policy and political expertise. Then they often go "downtown" and cash in, taking their expertise and networks with them.
Though a certain flow of personnel from Congress to K Street is inevitable, Congress ought to do more to hold onto experienced staff. Recently, we explored retention rates among House staff, and we found that offices that paid their staff more had slightly higher retention rates, though Hill salaries lag behind private sector comparisons. When staff leave to lobby, their former offices must find somebody new and usually less experienced. And offices who lack staff with policy expertise and political relationships often must rely more on outside lobbyists, who are only too happy to fill the gap. For a complete list of all 378 staffers, what office they worked in, and where they went to lobby, click here.
METHODOLOGY AND DATA
These results are based on a comparison of House disbursement data from the third quarter of 2009 with public lobbying records. One challenge in conducting this analysis is that we are matching on names, and sometimes individuals register as lobbyists under different name permutations than they were listed on the Hill. We do our best to correct for this, but there are limitations. We also note that because certain names are more common than others, there is always the possibility of false positive matches.
Additionally, since our data on staff come from the Office of the Chief Administrative Officer of the U.S. House of Representatives, we are dependent on what the House reports. We must in good faith disclose that the underlying data are messy. At best, the data are approximate, and higher levels of confidence in it can only come when the House of Representatives makes a better effort with respect to how it normalizes and releases the data to the public. To dig through the data yourself, visit our House Expenditure Reports Database.