From Hill to Here
EXECUTIVE UPDATE March 2004
By Fred H. Hutchison
Members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives who
leave voluntarily often do so to take jobs in the private
sector. Although some go back home and resume their original
careers, many become lobbyists, either independently or at one
of Washington's hundreds of law and government relations
firms. Only rarely do former members of Congress choose the
Executive Update interviewed several former members who are or
have been successful association leaders to learn why more of
their colleagues don't follow in their footsteps. The results
may surprise you, especially in light of recent news reports
about Representative Billy Tauzin (R-LA), who was approached
while still a sitting member by two high-wattage trade
groups, the Motion Picture Association of America and the
Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association.
For three years, Tauzin chaired the powerful House Energy and
Commerce Committee, and conventional wisdom said he'd be crazy
to give up his safe-seat and hard-earned seniority at the very
zenith of his congressional career. Conventional wisdom was
wrong. In February, Tauzin relinquished his gavel and
announced his resignation at term's end after facing the same
difficult situation as most senior House and Senate members:
Congress, like America, has been nearly
evenly split between the two major political parties for
the last 10 years.
The resulting power struggle has taken a
toll on comity and bipartisanship.
Several long-term institutional trends have
converged to make it much more difficult to secure
positive legislative results in either chamber.
Rules imposed by House and Senate
Republicans on themselves in 1995 limit committee and
subcommittee chairs to six-year terms.
Even members from relatively safe states or
districts are forced to spend time almost every day
raising funds for their reelection campaigns.
Although rank-and-file senators and
representatives are paid well ($158,100), their salaries
have not kept pace with inflation, and these leaders
could earn far more away from Capitol Hill.
Generous pension benefits encourage early
retirement. Members of the House and Senate who have
served five years can start collecting a limited pension
at age 62, and those with 20 years of service can begin
collecting it at age 50.
No wonder many senior-level but still relatively
young members eventually give up the lifelong congressional
career ambitions that many of them had when first elected. If
a health problem surfaces (as in Tauzin's case with an ulcer),
then the decision to "leave before they carry me out" becomes
even easier to make.
Why So Shy?
Leading an association ought to be at or near the top of a
congressperson's list of options after they leave Capitol
Hill. After all, trade and professional associations have long
been essential parts of America's political landscape. Many of
the largest and best-known associations have roots that go
back 100 to 150 years. For example, the American Forest &
Paper Association now led by former six-term congressman W.
Henson Moore (R-LA) originated in 1878 as the American Paper
Another reason former Congress members ought to consider the
association option is that nearly all major associations
include federal government relations as a primary raison
d'κtre. Former Representative James K. Coyne (R-PA), president
of the National Air Transportation Association (NATA), often
refers to associations as "citizen-participation groups." He
reminds audiences that the key public policy mission of NATA
and other trade groups is explicitly authorized by the First
Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees the
"right of the people
to petition the government for a
redress of grievances."
Former Representative Patricia Schroeder (D-CO), who served in
Congress for 12 terms, says that her position as CEO of the
Association of American Publishers (AAP) lets her continue to
shape public policy in exciting areas such as intellectual
property rights and freedom of speech. "AAP gives me the
perfect opportunity to continue to work on issues for which I
have a lot of passion and knowledge," Schroeder says.
Clearly, associations are centers of political influence and
hotbeds for the germination of public policy ideas. Given
these facts, why is it that only a handful of former members
go on to become association leaders?
Larry LaRocco (D-ID) is the 2003-2004 president of the U.S.
Association of Former Members of Congress (USAFMC) and former
head of both the ABA Securities Association and the American
Bankers Insurance Association (separately chartered affiliates
of the American Bankers Association). LaRocco says that
USAFMC's biennial program for retiring members of Congress
usually includes a speaker from an association. Nonetheless,
USAFMC's membership roster of 550-plus individuals includes
only about a dozen former members who are now or have recently
LaRocco and other former members list numerous reasons why
more of their colleagues don't end up in the association
Association management is hard work. Surprisingly, this
was the first thing that all of the interviewees said. The
hours are long. Association members can be demanding. And
association CEOs have to spend more time than they would like
working on human resource and internal management issues. As
Moore notes, "I work five, six, and sometimes seven days a
week. Unlike some of my former colleagues, I don't get to take
extended golf trips to Florida."
The timing must be exactly right. Perhaps the principal
reason more members of Congress don't end up as association
CEOs is that the timing has to be just right. The top slots at
major associations those that pay salaries competitive with
law and lobbying firms simply don't open up often. Unless an
association search committee is looking for a CEO at exactly
the same time that a former senator or representative is in
the job market, the two will never meet.
Ex-legislators generally can make more money by lobbying.
Of note, though, is that legislators-turned-association
leaders interviewed agreed that money was not the primary
reason why they took the job.
Ex-members sometimes believe that their careers will be
more rewarding if they have associations among a larger group
of clients. After a member leaves Congress, they often sit
down with their Rolodex and think about all of the people "on
the outside" with whom they have established connections.
Although federal law prohibits former members from lobbying
their old colleagues and congressional staff for a year,
nothing in the statute prevents them from providing "strategic
advice" to clients or from lobbying executive branch
officials. Thus, former members have lots of ways to put their
government relations talents to work.
As LaRocco explains, "After you pack up your office, you make
a list of the people you know including the association guys
and you start thinking, 'A whole lot of these folks could
use my help.' As a result, many former members come to the
conclusion that it would be more financially rewarding to have
an association as one of several clients rather than their
sole employer. Since I wanted some association experience
under my belt, I decided to go with the bankers, but most
other members make the other choice."
The association world isn't for the independent. Both
Moore and Schroeder opine that most senators and
representatives may simply be too independent-minded for the
association world. "A member of Congress doesn't report to a
board of directors," Moore notes. "It's a place of
entrepreneurs and independent contractors. Once you're in that
mindset, it's hard to shake it." Schroeder agrees, adding, "I
know a lot of former members who have one office in Washington
and another in their old district. I see them coming and going
at the airport, and I think, 'I wish I could get away with
The top spot at an association also is not a place for the
legislative generalist. Former legislators also say that
what really enticed them into the association sphere was the
chance to "drill down into a specific set of issues." For
Moore it was environmental policy and regulation, for Coyne
aviation issues, for Schroeder copyright and freedom of
speech, and for LaRocco financial services matters. All of
them say, in one way or another, that they like working for a
single client on a fairly narrow range of issues.
There's not much time to rub shoulders with old colleagues.
Former Representative Glenn L. English Jr. (D-OK), CEO of
the National Rural Electric Cooperatives Association (NRECA),
says that when he was recruited a decade ago, he "assumed that
I'd be very active in promoting NRECA's legislative and
regulatory agenda. While I do testify occasionally and
otherwise stay involved in the policy-making process, I spend
most of my time just dealing with the challenges that arise in
managing a large organization."
Professional associations have traditionally been led by an
individual from the profession, such as a nurse for the
American Nurses Association. Trade associations, on the other
hand, often hire a CEO who has knowledge of and an affinity
for the industry but is not necessarily an industry insider.
Former Representatives Moore, Schroeder, Coyne, English, and
LaRocco all are examples of politicians who ended up running
trade associations in which their personal interests and
substantive expertise were good fits with the organizations.
Association search committees establish CEO selection criteria
as diverse as the association world itself. Some want an
individual who understands how regulatory decisions are made
at a particular agency. Other associations want someone with
broader knowledge of American government. Still others put
political considerations further down the list.
But in all instances, associations are looking for a strong
leader. They want a CEO who is a capable executive, an
articulate spokesperson, and a passionate champion. Many
former members of Congress as well as former congressional
staffers and executive branch officials are very well
qualified by all of these measures.
Of course, former national legislators carry political
baggage. They are, after all, either a Republican or a
Democrat (true independents are rare). They undoubtedly made
both friends and enemies during their congressional careers
and then there is that one-year prohibition on lobbying their
So does the reported courtship of Representative Tauzin by
both Hollywood and the prescription drug makers represent a
new interest by the association world in recruiting current or
former members of Congress to lead major associations? It's
simply too early to tell. However, associations are a vibrant
and vital part of the American political system, and where
there is a good substantive fit, both an association and a
former member of Congress can be quite satisfied.
Fred H. Hutchison is vice president of Fleishman-Hillard
Government Relations. He also serves as chairman of GWSAE's
Editorial Advisory Committee and is a frequent contributor to
Executive Update. He can be reached at (202) 551-1440 or
Former Members of Congress in the Association World
Other Former Members in the Nonprofit World
Reprinted with Permission
This article originally appeared in the March 2004 issue of
Executive Update, published by the Greater Washington
Society of Association Executives. It is reprinted here with