Pharma & Crypto Among Winners as Revolving Door Spins From Congress
Former members of Congress are cashing in as lobbyists for big pharma, crypto and Hollywood studios.
By Donald Shaw and David Moore, Sludge
Every two years, many former members of Congress who lose their re-elections or retire move into lucrative jobs in the lobbying industry, where they promote the interests of private sector clients before government officials and sometimes their former congressional colleagues. Five months after the beginning of the current session of Congress, more than a dozen representatives and senators have newly walked through this so-called revolving door, taking jobs representing the interests of Hollywood film studios, an association for pass-through corporations, the ethanol industry, and more. Three former lawmakers—two House Democrats and a Senate Republican—landed as advisors for one of the largest cryptocurrency exchanges as the industry spends big on lobbying to stop regulations that could require them to treat cryptocurrencies like securities.
Below are several of the lawmakers-turned-lobbyists who were members of the previous Congress. Overall, Sludge identified at least 16 lawmakers in office during 2021-2022 who are now working as lobbyists or consultants on government affairs in the private sector. Federal law prohibits these revolving door lobbyists from directly lobbying Congress for a period of one year, but they are already able to lobby other federal agencies and they can provide strategic consulting to clients that are working to influence Congress.
A key ally of Big Pharma while in Congress, the Oregon Democrat will join the lobbying firm Williams & Jensen as a principal, where he will register as a lobbyist, the former lawmaker told Politico. Schrader, who was defeated in a primary last year by attorney Jamie McLeod-Skinner, helped lead the Blue Dog Coalition of conservative House Democrats who often voted in lockstep with business lobbying interests. During the first year of the Biden administration, Schrader was one of three Democrats to vote against his party’s signature drug pricing reform legislation in the House Energy and Commerce Committee, delaying the sweeping budget reconciliation package and watering down provisions that would require the government to negotiate prescription drug prices. The tax policy and business lobbying law firm Williams & Jensen has an extensive roster of pharmaceutical industry clients, including trade association PhRMA and member companies Eli Lilly, Merck, Pfizer, Novo Nordisk, Sanofi, and others. Pharma industry clients accounted for $3 million of the firm’s federal lobbying revenue last year, according to records maintained on OpenSecrets. Schrader was also among the centrist Democrats in the Problem Solvers Coalition and the business-friendly New Democrat Coalition who pushed to undermine the Build Back Better Act while raising millions of dollars from business PACs, some of which was funneled to super PAC ads supporting his re-election bids. His new employer also lobbies for Blue Cross Blue Shield, Comcast, Visa, and rail giant Norfolk Southern.
Former Senate Banking Committee ranking member Pat Toomey, a Republican from Pennsylvania, was recently named as a member of Coinbase’s Global Advisory Council, which the cryptocurrency exchange company says will “strengthen our efforts with stakeholders across the community as we seek to responsibly deploy crypto to help make the financial system more open, accessible, and fair, and make the case to stakeholders around the world that crypto and blockchain will usher in a new era of the internet based on decentralized protocols.” In March, Coinbase received a Wells notice from the Securities and Exchange Commission, indicating that the agency is preparing to take enforcement actions against the company over what it views as potential violations of securities laws. Last year, Coinbase, the largest U.S. cryptocurrency exchange, spent a record $3.4 million on lobbying. The crypto industry’s lobbying spending skyrocketed last year, shaping bills that would increase oversight and regulation of crypto and blockchain ventures. As a member of Congress, Toomey was a strong proponent of the cryptocurrency industry, often defending it on Twitter as well as proposing legislation that would exempt small sales or exchanges of virtual currencies from income taxes and exempting network validators and miners from the new broker reporting requirements that Congress passed into law in the bipartisan infrastructure act. Toomey has also been appointed to the board of directors of the private equity firm Apollo Global Management.
Sean Patrick Maloney
Former House Democrat Maloney has also been tapped by Coinbase for its Global Advisory Council. In Congress, Maloney was a member of the moderate New Democrat Coalition and the chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) during the recent midterms election cycle, after which the Democrats suffered a net loss of nine seats, flipping control of the chamber. In September 2022, as the former chairman of the Commodity Exchanges, Energy, and Credit Subcommittee, Maloney introduced House legislation, matching a version introduced a month before in the Senate, that would make the Commodity Futures Trading Commission agency the top regulator of cryptocurrency—a move favored by crypto industry lobbying groups. In addition to his new role with Coinbase, Maloney was recently nominated by President Biden to be the U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), an intergovernmental organization that promotes neoliberal economic reforms and international trade agreements. The OECD posting in Paris was seen as a plum gig for Maloney, who lost his general election contest in New York’s Hudson Valley with Republican Mike Lawler by just over one percent of the vote.
The Ohio Democrat, bested in a run for U.S. Senate last year by Republican J.D. Vance by a six-point margin, landed this year in positions with a fossil fuel industry front group and the cryptocurrency industry. In January, Ryan announced he was joining the leadership council of Natural Allies for a Clean Energy Future, a pro-fossil gas advocacy group whose funding members include oil and gas pipeline firms Kinder Morgan, TC Energy (formerly known as TransCanada), Williams Companies, and many others. Several of the pipeline giants are also members of the oil and gas industry’s top lobbying arm, the American Petroleum Institute, which exerts immense influence to stall or weaken legislation that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions and regulate methane emitted by midstream gas transport. The front group, tracked since its launch in 2020 by pro-clean energy watchdog group Energy and Policy Institute, produces glitzy PR videos rebranding fossil gas as clean, seeded with a $10 million budget and often targeting communities of color that have been disproportionately impacted by gas leaks. Recently, Ryan joined the Global Advisory Council of Coinbase after earning a “very supportive” rating from the company for his legislative stance on cryptocurrency, including co-sponsoring what he called a legislative fix to reporting requirements with Republican Rep. Patrick McHenry. And with another former House member, Republican David McIntosh of Indiana, Ryan will co-chair a new advocacy effort of the nonprofit Bitcoin Policy Institute that will promote the economic and social benefits of Bitcoin.
The Illinois Republican, defeated in a primary last year by fellow incumbent Mary Miller, took up in January as managing director at lobbying and public affairs firm Cozen O’Connor Public Strategies. In addition to his role as deputy whip for Republican Whip Steve Scalise, the firm highlights Davis’ stints as ranking member for the Committee on House Administration and the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit. Some of the firm’s lobbying clients this year include Amazon Web Services, Independence Blue Cross, and health services company Fresenius Medical Care. Davis told Politico Influence he planned to use his experience on the House Agriculture Committee in promoting clients’ interests in the omnibus Farm Bill, which is currently being negotiated in Congress.
Former member of the Democratic House leadership Cheri Bustos in January joined lobbying and public affairs company Mercury as a co-chair. Bustos, who represented an Illinois district for ten years, was the chair of the House Democrats’ campaign arm, the DCCC, as well as the co-chair of the Steering and Policy Committee and the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee. In D.C., Mercury has disclosed lobbying the government for 31 clients this year, including chemicals company Cabot Corporation, health insurer Blue Cross/Blue Shield, and biotech company Emergent Biosolutions. Mercury says that in addition to co-chairing the firm’s D.C. office, Bustos will lead the firm’s client-relations and business growth throughout the Midwest. During her tenure in Democratic leadership, Bustos was often seen as promoting the moderate wing, for example by stacking the DCCC leadership entirely with members of the business-friendly New Democrat Coalition and by creating a blacklist against vendors who did business with Democratic candidates mounting primary campaigns against incumbents. Bustos recently registered her first client, the Illinois Corn Growers Association, for which she will lobby on legislation that would require new cars to operate with higher ethanol blend gas and require fuel retailers to offer these higher blend fuels. Her son Nick also registered as a lobbyist for the organization, and it is also his first lobbying client.
A former co-chair of the centrist Problem Solvers Caucus who in March 2021 took “full responsibility” after an allegation of sexual misconduct and said he would not seek re-election, the New York Republican resigned from his seat in May 2022, some seven months early. Reed immediately announced a new position as vice chairman of the bipartisan lobbying and PR firm Prime Policy Group, which touts his experience “as a member of the powerful Ways and Means Committee.” The firm’s founding chair, Charlie Black, is a board member of the dark money group No Labels that created the Problem Solvers Caucus and whose PAC earmarked over $160,000 in contributions to Reed over his career, according to OpenSecrets. Among the top-spending lobbying clients of Prime Policy Group in 2022 were the electricity and natural gas utility CenterPoint Energy, oil and gas exploration company Spire, AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals, and tobacco distributor Pyxus.
Multinational law firm K&L Gates announced in December last year that former Democratic Pennsylvania Rep. Mike Doyle was joining the company as a government affairs counselor in its Pittsburgh office and as a member of its Public Policy and Law practice. Doyle, who was a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, in March registered to lobby the federal government for real estate company Walnut Capital Management on “Funding for programs for green energy low carbon emissions development projects that include or address energy, poverty, energy equity, public housing development.” K&L Gates has worked for more than 100 federal lobbying clients already this year, including TikTok owner ByteDance, Shell, and Starbucks.
The former chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Peter DeFazio in January entered a “strategic collaboration” with lobbying firm Summit Strategies, according to a press release from the company. DeFazio, an Oregon Democrat who co-founded the Congressional Progressive Caucus, was the primary sponsor of the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which authorized $550 billion in new spending for highway repair, broadband development, and power infrastructure, among other things. According to Summit Strategies, DeFazio will “focus his work on a wide variety of transportation issues, including highways and transit, aviation, water resources, and programs created” by his infrastructure bill. The firm said in January that DeFazio was not planning to register as a lobbyist. Some of Summit Strategies clients for whom it has been lobbying the government on issues related to implementation of the infrastructure bill are the American Concrete Pipe Association, railroad company Norfolk Southern, and Uber.
After deciding not to run for re-election, the eight-term Colorado Democrat quickly signed up in January as a partner with lobbying firm Holland & Knight, one of the top four lobbying companies in D.C. in recent years. Among other areas of expertise, the firm touts Perlmutter’s experience on the House Financial Services Committee and as a “champion of renewable energy.” The law firm’s top-spending clients last year at the federal level included trade group the American Chemistry Council, Occidental Petroleum, and food processing company Smithfield Foods. Last year, Smithfield was hit with a class-action suit alleging violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act in its calculation of overtime pay, one of three such suits that Bloomberg Law reported was the most of any company reviewed. Lawyers and law firms were the Denver attorney’s top donor industry during his runs for Congress, according to OpenSecrets, contributing more than $1.8 million to his campaigns.
Katko took a job in January as senior advisor at the Hill East Group, a lobbying shop founded by one of his former chiefs of staff that already employs at least two other former staff members of his as lobbyists. Founded in 2017, Hill East Group has been steadily growing its roster of lobbying clients, and in 2023 has so far worked for companies including cybersecurity firm SentinelOne, anti-drone radar maker Fortem Technologies, and glove manufacturer American Nitrile. In Congress, Katko was the chair of the Republican Governance Group, a coalition of moderate House Republicans that seeks to support center-right policy solutions, and he was the ranking member of the House Committee on Homeland Security.
The Wisconsin Democrat, who announced his plans to retire in August 2021, joined the multinational law firm Arnold & Porter as a senior policy advisor earlier this year. The firm highlights the thirteen-term congressman’s experience on the House Ways and Means Committee and as “one of Congress’ most bipartisan members.” In April, Kind registered as a lobbyist for his first client, Employee-owned S Corporations of America, an organization representing “pass-through” private companies that are owned partially or wholly by their employees. Last year, Arnold & Porter’s top-spending lobbying client was trade group PhRMA, paying them more than $1 million. The firm promotes Kind’s decades of experience in major healthcare legislation, including the passage of the Affordable Care Act, which Kind voted against on the House Ways & Means Committee before ultimately voting for its passage. During the 2009 legislative battles over the bill, the pharmaceutical industry claimed several victories by exempting itself from attempts to address high drug treatment prices. The firm also lobbies for Samsung Electronics America, utility holding company Berkshire Hathaway Energy, Hyundai Steel, and last year for more than a dozen pharmaceutical companies.
Texas Democrat Filemon Vela abandoned his congressional seat last April, in the middle of the legislative session, to take a job with lobbying firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld. Vela was a founding member of the Democratic Oil and Gas Caucus and much of his lobbying so far with Akin Gump has focused on energy issues. For example, Vela has lobbied the Department of Energy for Missouri Cobalt LLC on issues related to critical minerals and for the Port of Corpus Christi Authority on port infrastructure issues. The Port of Corpus Christi is the largest crude oil exporting port in the nation. Vela has also registered to lobby for the Motion Picture Association of America (MPA), SOLVD Health, Missouri Cobalt, and SAP America. Vela’s “cooling off” period expired on March 31, according to the Clerk of the House, so he is now allowed to communicate with his former colleagues in Congress on behalf of his lobbying clients.
In February, the former Democratic congressman from New York joined consulting firm Actum as a co-chair. The firm was founded last year after an exodus from lobbying and public strategy firm Mercury, with a D.C. office led by former President Trump’s chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and former North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp. Suozzi took the position after finishing a distant third in the June 2022 Democratic primary for governor of New York, during which the former Long Island congressman billed himself as a centrist in the vein of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus that he helped lead in the U.S. House. This year, some of Actum’s lobbying clients include medical device company Masimo, aerospace company Blue Origin, and the construction services business of contracting giant KBR. As a vice chair of the Problem Solvers Caucus, Suozzi threatened to block the Democrats’ infrastructure package unless a tax cut benefiting wealthy homeowners was passed. His top career donor industry was real estate, according to OpenSecrets, which gave him more than $1 million over his three terms in the House.
A few more former representatives took positions influencing federal policymakers: G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) joined public affairs firm McGuireWoods Consulting, and Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.) joined the Children’s Hospital Association as a strategic adviser.