Friday, July 25, 2014

With K St. Labor Market Tight, Will Democrats Flood Think Tanks?

Most Congressional-watchers are predicting tough times for Democrats in the upcoming midterm Congressional elections, and with many lobbying firms facing tough times, many Congressional aides and lawmakers may aim to land a job in think tank land.

Politico recently explained the tough situation on K Street:
Democratic staffers whose bosses lose in November may be in for more bad news in January.
Staffers leaving Capitol Hill as a result of a retirement or election loss will enter one of the tightest K Street labor markets in recent memory as firms of all sizes have struggled to gin up new business and keep existing clients amid several years of anemic growth and stalled legislation.
“The town has changed over the last five years,” said Rich Gold, who heads up the lobbying operation at Holland & Knight. “The era of million-dollar contracts for former senators or $600,000 contracts for former House members is well past.
Age, lack of lobbying experience and party affiliation will also make life difficult for some Democratic staffers, even for senior staffers who have paid their dues on Capitol Hill.
Unlike previous party changes in 1994, 2006 and 2010, the downtown labor market is much weaker than it once was. Growth has been almost nonexistent for the top firms since 2011 while many K Street’s hottest shops are fairly small, single-issue boutiques focusing on issues like defense, appropriations or tech policy.

With a lobbying gig difficult to snag, many Hill folks will likely turn to think tanks for employment.  There are a many former members of Congress and Hill staffers at numerous think tanks in and around Washington, DC.

But unless you are heading a large think tank, the salary is likely to be a disappointment compared to lobbying pay.  Former Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC), who now heads the conservative think tank Heritage Foundation, commands an annual salary of around $800,000.  But former Sen. Jim Talent (R-MO), a Distinguished Fellow at Heritage, makes only a quarter of that: $191,000.  In other words, he is making only slightly more than he did as a US senator.

As for former Hill staffers, working at a think tank vs. working at a lobbying shop will cut their salary by half or more.  At a think tank, many can expect to make roughly what they were paid on the Hill.

Here is a guide from Think Tank Watch on think tank salaries.  Happy job hunting!