WASHINGTON -- There's new competition for the cushy lobbying jobs on Washington's infamous K Street. This week, nearly 250 former members of Congress and senior congressional staffers became legally eligible to lobby their former colleagues on Capitol Hill, according to a report from The Sunlight Foundation, a nonprofit political watchdog group.
The report lists 71 former members of the House and 178 former high-ranking congressional aides who were prohibited by law from directly lobbying Congress for the past 12 months. The ban expired Thursday.
But that doesn't mean the ex-members and staffers have been absent from the Washington influence game.
Sunlight points out that plenty of the former members took jobs as "strategic advisers" at major corporations, or at law firms specializing in government relations. Former Rep. Joe Baca (D-Calif.), for example, once chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, now advocates on behalf of payday lenders as CEO of the Financial Services Innovation Coalition, a trade group that represents pawnshops, check-cashing services and other "non-bank financial services providers".
Shortly before Baca lost reelection in 2012, he introduced a bill to ease regulation of payday lenders, likely putting him in the industry's good graces.
Former Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R-Calif.) and her then-husband, former GOP Rep. Connie Mack of Florida, were both defeated in the 2012 election cycle -- Bono Mack, lost to a Democratic challenger, while Mack failed to unseat Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.). Within months of their respective defeats, both announced they had joined Washington-based government relations firms, where they would advise clients how to influence Congress without directly engaging in lobbying themselves. Bono, who has since divorced, is currently a vice president at FaegreBD Consulting, while Mack is a partner at Liberty Partners Group, a policy advocacy firm.
Of course, not all former lawmakers become lobbyists. The Sunlight report highlights the variety of career paths taken by recently departed House members. Former Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) is a political commentator for Fox News, and former Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) hosts a radio show. Not surprisingly, plenty of former officeholders are hoping to be elected once again, biding their time until the right opportunity arises.
While the one-year lobbying ban that applies to former House members expired on Thursday for Mack, Baca and Bono, there's no guarantee any will register as lobbyists. No ex-senators were among the newly eligible lobbyists in the Sunlight report. Former senators are banned from lobbying for two years.
The technical definition of a lobbyist is a person who spends more than 20 percent of their time during a three-month period actively advocating on behalf of a single, paying client. But there are lots of ways for recently departed members of Congress to adhere to the letter of the lobbying ban, while still making big money on K Street.
One of the more popular routes taken in recent years has been for former members of Congress to join law firms with lobbying practices, and provide counsel to the firm's clients. This is what former Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.) did after he lost a vicious race against a fellow Democrat in 2012, ending a career in Congress that spanned three decades.
Today, Berman is a "senior adviser" at the mega-law and lobbying firm Covington & Burling, where he provides "policy and legislative advice" to clients, according to the firm's website. Like his former colleagues Baca, Mack and Bono, Berman's one-year lobbying ban ended on Thursday.
To read the Sunlight Foundation's full roster of 249 former members of the House and congressional aides who have become eligible to lobby Congress in the past five days, click here.
CLARIFICATION: An earlier version of this story did not acknowledge that former Rep. Mary Bono's name has changed.
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