Bush officials make the leap to lobbying firms
It's little wonder, then, that when Kirk Blalock, the Bush administration's first point man for the business community in the public liaison shop, left last fall to join the firm of Fierce & Isakowitz, his phone started ringing. Several corporate groups, including the Business Roundtable, the Tax Relief Coalition, and the American Insurance Association, quickly retained him and the firm for help on such weighty matters as tax cuts and asbestos-litigation reform.
Blalock had worked with dozens of business lobbyists during President Bush's successful tax-cut effort in 2001, and he spent untold hours strategizing with senior presidential adviser Karl Rove. The experience and knowledge he gained as a White House insider are invaluable to his clients. Two of them-the roundtable and the coalition-have been paying Blalock to lobby for them in the mammoth battle over President Bush's tax-cut plan.
Blalock says he serves as a go-between and handles "strategy and information flow" for his clients with both the administration and congressional leaders. "All my clients support the administration," he said, but added that business has been dead-set against the new levies-called "pay-fors"-that the Senate included in its tax bill to offset some of the cuts.
Dirk Van Dongen, co-chair of the Tax Relief Coalition, praised Blalock for his "ability to think beyond the immediate moment and connect sometimes seemingly unrelated dots in the midst of a fast lobbying battle." Fellow lobbyist Ed Gillespie of Quinn Gillespie said, "Kirk knows how the White House people think and what they're likely to be for and against."
Inside knowledge of not only the White House but also the departments and agencies is always a big plus on a Washington resume. "Because you're carrying the portfolio of the president, you get phenomenal exposure," said a longtime K Street lobbyist, referring to the White House lobbying operation. In these jobs, he added, even younger staffers might talk to CEOs on behalf of the president. "The good ones and the smart ones get a lot of mileage out of this."
Not surprisingly, Blalock is one of at least 15 in the administration who recently jumped from being a government official to becoming a K Street hired gun. Many are representing clients on the hot-button issues of the moment: taxes, prescription drugs for seniors, homeland security, accounting rules, energy programs, and more. Some of the Bush alums are running the Washington offices of Fortune 100 corporations, while others are working at K Street's powerhouse firms.
The most well known is Nicholas Calio, a former head of legislative affairs at the White House who now runs Citigroup's Washington office. At around the time Calio left, six of his aides at the White House also moved into lobbying jobs: Christine Ciccone, who is now the No. 2 Washington lobbyist for Honeywell; Brian Conklin, now at Washington Council Ernst & Young; Jack Howard, now president of Wexler & Walker Public Policy Associates; Dirksen Lehman, who moved to Clark & Weinstock; Nelson Litterst, who took a job at the C2 Group; and Heather Wingate, who works for Calio at Citigroup.
Other executive branch heavy hitters who made the jump include Nancy Dorn, who was No. 2 to Mitch Daniels at the Office of Management and Budget and is now in charge of state, federal, and international government affairs for General Electric; Anne Phelps, who was one of two principal White House health policy advisers and now lobbies for Washington Council Ernst & Young; and Robert Wood, who was chief of staff to Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson and is set to join the lobbying firm of Barbour Griffith & Rogers. Meanwhile, at least four of Secretary Tom Ridge's former aides at the Department of Homeland Security are now lobbying on homeland-security matters.
Among the Bush alumni, more than half have worked on K Street before. Calio, for example, was earning some $1 million a year as a co-owner of the lobby shop O'Brien Calio when he went into the administration in 2001. Calio's post at Citigroup, say lobbyists who know him, is clearly a step up financially. At Citigroup, he runs government affairs in the U.S. and abroad and was awarded a seat on the company's prestigious management committee.
Another former K Street inhabitant, who worked at the now-defunct firm of Hooper, Hooper, Owen & Gould, is Dorn at General Electric. She also worked briefly on international issues for House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., before joining the Bush administration, first as an adviser to Vice President Cheney and then at OMB. Dorn, who started at GE within the past month, says she's spending a lot of time learning about the company's array of business interests. "It was a nice fit," she said, "going from an agency with as broad as reach as OMB to a company as diverse as GE."
Lehman, who worked on K Street before his stint as a Senate lobbyist under Calio at the White House, is returning to the private sector with more political savvy and contacts. He is spending most of his time focusing on key Senate committees and helping such clients as the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America and the Biotechnology Industry Organization formulate strategy. He received a few offers, but chose Clark & Weinstock because "they were looking for someone who was strong in the Senate on health care. It was the right fit."
Younger ones among the former administration officials have moved into the lobbying business for the first time after getting married and having their first child. These freshman lobbyists are discovering synergies between their previous careers and their new ones.
At Washington Council, Phelps spends three to four days each week focusing heavily on health care issues. It's no wonder. Besides being one of two key health policy advisers in the White House, she also served for four years as the top health care adviser to Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., now the majority leader. To date, Phelps has done a mix of consulting and lobbying for such longtime clients of the firm as Aetna and Baxter Healthcare, and has visited with her old boss, Frist.
Phelps has also teamed up with Brian Conklin and some senior lobbyists in efforts to solicit new clients. "Their presence here has been warmly received," said veteran firm partner Bruce Gates, adding that Phelps and Conklin were an "integral part" of recent client pitches. Their efforts have brought in about six new clients, including a business coalition that is pushing for an extension of key provisions in the Fair Credit Reporting Act.
Another newly minted lobbyist is Wood, the former chief of staff to Thompson at HHS. At Barbour Griffith & Rogers, the all-Republican lobbying powerhouse, Wood will be in charge of the firm's growing state lobbying practice as well as working on pharmaceutical and health care issues. At the White House, Wood worked closely with key aides on health policy, including former White House health policy guru Mark McClellan, who is now commissioner at the Food and Drug Administration.
"People often forget the magnitude of the administrative and policy decisions made at the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Institutes of Health," he said. The lobbying firm's drug clients include GlaxoSmithKline and Bristol-Myers Squibb.
When he joins Barbour Griffith on June 1, Wood will be barred for one year from lobbying HHS or its divisions on specific matters that he worked on in the government. But he could lobby for pharmaceutical and health care clients on industry-wide legislative or regulatory issues.
Under government ethics rules, lobbyists must restrict their activities and contacts during such "cooling-off periods," depending on their former government positions. For instance, Calio, who was an assistant to the president, is under a one-year ban on lobbying White House officials and government agencies. Jack Howard, a deputy assistant to the president, is also under a one-year ban on lobbying White House officials, but is free to lobby the agencies. The other five former aides to Calio were all special assistants to the president, as were Blalock and Phelps, and are not under any restrictions.
Each federal agency has its own rules that apply to its former officials. All former administration officials face a lifetime ban on lobbying on specific matters-such as a lawsuit or a procurement issue-in which they were personally and substantially involved while in the government.
The lobbyists are attacking their new jobs with gusto. Wood said, "As an advocate, I'll be using political and policy skills" acquired through years of working for Thompson, both in Washington and before that in Wisconsin, where Thompson was governor.
"At the White House, I worked on 20 issues at once," said Blalock, whose resume includes stints in the 1990s lobbying for Philip Morris and working at the Republican National Committee for then-Chairman Haley Barbour.
Perhaps most impressive to his business clients is that Blalock soaked up knowledge from, and has rubbed shoulders with, political strategist Rove. "I got to sit back and watch and learn from Karl," he said. "It was an invaluable experience."