August 21, 2019
As freshmen members of Congress have settled into their offices on Capitol Hill, a new batch of former lawmakers have joined the ranks of K Street lobbyists. Former lawmakers can be valuable hires for lobbying firms. They bring expertise on issues they worked on while in Congress and connections to their former colleagues, both of which may serve as selling points to potential clients.
An analysis by CREW finds three members of the 115th Congress who are apparently taking advantage of some of these benefits of being former lawmakers, to the advantage of their new firms. Former Reps. Bill Shuster, Lamar Smith, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen are lobbying for clients with interests relevant to committees or subcommittees they chaired while in office. In addition, each of these revolving-door lobbyists’ firms signed new clients relevant to the former lawmakers’ committees, after they joined their respective firms.
Though these former representatives cannot lobby Congress during a one year “cooling off” period, they can lobby executive branch officials, as well as advise others on lobbying Congress. Despite these restrictions, former lawmakers may be kept busy by their new employers, sometimes with a familiar portfolio of policy issues, drawing on their experience as public officials.
Take former Texas Rep. Lamar Smith, for example. Akin Gump announced his hiring on January 7, 2019, just four days after he left office. His work for the firm seems to revolve around the policy areas he worked on as chair of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.
During his last months in Congress, Smith sponsored The National Quantum Initiative Act, a nearly $1.3 billion government initiative directed at quantum science and technology development. Just two weeks before Akin Gump announced Smith’s employment the bill was officially signed into law. Smith’s new employer gained a new client soon after Smith joined the firm: Strangeworks Inc., a quantum computing firm.
Smith has also been “pitching existing and potential clients” on artificial intelligence issues, another issue area relevant to the committee he recently chaired. ISM Connect, a facial recognition firm that uses “AI driven technology” hired the firm shortly after Smith began working there.
While Smith hasn’t lobbied for these two clients, he has in fact lobbied on “science” issues for a third tech industry client that registered with his firm shortly after he joined it. HerdX, a startup based in Smith’s home state of Texas, develops technology to improve livestock management. Smith has lobbied for the firm during both quarters since it became a client of Akin Gump. According to lobbying disclosure reports, his lobbying activity appears to have included contacts at the White House, the Department of Agriculture, or both.
Smith also has an additional valuable resource left over from his days in Congress: a campaign committee with hundreds of thousands of dollars on hand. From around the time he started working at the firm, Smith’s campaign account spending seems to be targeted towards members of the House Space, Science, and Technology committee.
Days before it was announced that he was joining Akin Gump, Texans for Lamar Smith contributed $1,000 to Rep. Dan Lipinski, the primary sponsor of a bill that’s currently in committee, which would expand artificial intelligence research. Less than two weeks later, Smith donated separately to Lipinski’s campaign as a private citizen. Shortly after that, his committee contributed $2,000 to Rep. Pete Olson, the co-chair of the Congressional Artificial Intelligence Caucus. Texans for Lamar Smith has also donated a combined $10,000 to three members of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, plus another $1,000 to Rob Portman, co-founder of the Senate Artificial Intelligence Caucus.
Since January 3rd of this year, the day Smith left Congress, Texans for Lamar Smith has contributed $11,000 to 9 members of the House Space, Science, and Technology committee. Most of these representatives hadn’t received a contribution from Smith’s campaign before January 3rd.
Or consider the case of Bill Shuster, the former chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. A few months after leaving the Hill, Shuster spoke at an event relating to his former committee assignment: “A Conversation on Converging Infrastructure.” The event was put on by his new place of work: the law firm Squire Patton Boggs.
Shuster’s joining Squire Patton Boggs seemed to coincide with new clients joining the firm who have transportation interests. For example, CRRC Sifang America Incorporated, a railcar manufacturer, registered with Shuster’s new firm on July 3rd, listing transportation as the only issue it would lobby on. A Connecticut government office seeking funding for infrastructure also registered with Squire Patton Boggs after Shuster joined.
While Shuster has not registered to lobby for either of those two clients, he has in fact lobbied for an existing client of Squire Patton Boggs with transportation interests, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
While in Congress, Shuster also served on the Armed Services Committee. At Squire Patton Boggs, Shuster is a Senior Policy Advisor on the firm’s Defense and Maritime Security Policy team. Advanced Turbine Engine Company (ATEC) registered as a client of Squire Patton Boggs on March 6, 2019, shortly after Shuster joined the firm. ATEC is a project of defense contracting giant Honeywell and Pratt & Whitney, a subsidiary of United Technology Corporation, created to bid for a contract to make an engine for the Army. ATEC did not receive the contract and enlisted Squire Patton Boggs to protest the decision in Congress. ATEC terminated its relationship with the firm in June.
The final former representative now registered to lobby, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, served as the Chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Middle East and North Africa (MENA) subcommittee. Clients she is representing as a lobbyist at Akin Gump have direct ties to this region.
One client, the Swifthold Foundation, which is negotiating a nearly $6 billion lawsuit settlement with a Qatari Sheik, explicitly sought Ros-Lehtinen’s “experience advocating fair dealings in the Middle East,” according to a litigation support firm working for the foundation. Laureate Education, Inc., an existing client of Akin Gump’s, is an international network of higher education institutions which includes a number of schools in the Middle East. Second quarter filings reveal Ros-Lehtinen is one of two lobbyists at Akin Gump working for this client.
The revolving door is a well-known phenomenon in American politics, and these examples suggest that it’s alive and well. When lawmakers pass through it, the expertise and powerful connections they gained during their time as public servants become an asset for wealthy interests who can pay top dollar to try to get the policies they want.