Top-level GOP aides who helped write the new tax law are now leaving the Hill in droves to cash in as lobbyists on K Street and other marquee private-sector destinations.
Powerhouse accounting firm PwC landed one of the biggest prizes, announcing Monday that Mark Prater, the Senate Finance Committee’s longtime GOP chief tax counsel, is the new managing director of its tax policy services group.
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Others who have made the switch include a top aide to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Brendan Dunn, who joined Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld in May as a partner in its public law and policy practice. Some less visible tax aides from both chambers have also gone through the revolving door to companies hoping to rake in new business and more profits from the package of tax cuts and legal changes.
And it’s not just a Hill phenomenon.
Down Pennsylvania Avenue, Shahira Knight, who was at the negotiating table on behalf of the White House as the tax bill developed, is heading to The Clearing House, a banking policy and lobbying group, that company said Monday. Knight has previously worked as a lobbyist, as well as a Ways and Means staffer.
For many like Prater and Dunn, the time is right: Tax cuts they helped develop and shepherd through Congress have been signed into law, and demand is peaking for their services outside of Congress, meaning they can earn much more than the roughly $170,000 annual salaries they were each making, according to data from LegiStorm.
Meanwhile, some of their bosses have already left or announced retirements, and Republican control of the Hill could be in jeopardy.
“All those things are lining up right now,” one tax aide said.
Lobbying, accounting and law firms, along with businesses looking to beef up their tax departments, covet the staffers’ detailed knowledge of the new tax law and their Hill connections, especially as they try to influence rules for implementing the law. Firms ranging from big to boutique are actively recruiting tax talent from government positions, multiple lobbyists said.
“These folks are obviously wildly valuable resources,” said Marc Gerson, chair of Miller & Chevalier, a Washington law firm with a major tax practice. Gerson was a majority tax counsel on Ways and Means in the mid-2000s
The market is particularly strong for the select subset of high-level staffers.
Prater, who’d worked on the Finance Committee since January 1990 and was a behind-the-scenes player on every major tax bill during that time, will join a roster at PwC packed with former top-level tax staffers from both sides of the aisle, as well as ex-administration officials. PwC’s Washington tax group also boasts a former chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Dave Camp (R-Mich.).
Dunn has counseled lawmakers on tax and trade issues for years on the Senate side. He worked on the Finance Committee before joining McConnell’s office.
Prater and Dunn couldn’t be immediately reached for comment.
Hill aides and tax policy watchers also expect an eventual exit announcement from House Speaker Paul Ryan’s senior tax counsel, George Callas.
Both Prater and Callas played pivotal parts in speeding passage of the GOP tax legislation last December, barely two months after the bill’s introduction, after laying groundwork for several years beforehand. In addition, both of their bosses are leaving Congress, with Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Ryan planning to retire at the end of this session.
Others who have drawn interest from outside include Ways and Means’ current majority chief tax counsel, Barbara Angus. She came to the committee in 2016 to help craft the tax overhaul legislation after about a decade in the private sector. She has also worked in the Treasury Department’s tax policy office and at the Joint Committee on Taxation.
Ways and Means has already lost its staff director, Dave Stewart, who recently moved to the lobbying firm Squire Patton Boggs. Previously an aide to former Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on tax, trade and more, Stewart joined the committee in late 2015, just after Ryan succeeded Boehner and handed the chairmanship to Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas).
Some less-visible tax aides have moved on recently, too.
In addition to Dunn, Akin Gump signed up Zachary Rudisill, who was tax counsel to Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), a Finance Committee member. The specialty lobbying shop Capitol Tax Partners recruited Randy Herndon, who was tax and budget counsel to Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), another Finance Committee member.
Whitney Daffner, who spent a decade working on Ways and Means for Rep. Pat Tiberi (R-Ohio) before Tiberi left Congress in January, is WalMart’s new director of federal government affairs.
The recruiting has extended into Hill communications offices. Three Ways and Means press aides have left recently. Former communications director Emily Schillinger is now advocating private equity interests for the American Investment Council. Former press secretary Lauren Aronson joined the public relations firm FP1 Strategies. And former speechwriter Shane McDonald is now at Business Roundtable.
New job options for tax aides vary depending on what firms are looking for, such as whether they need someone with more Senate or House experience or want to pad their Republican or Democratic rosters, said Gerson of Miller and Chevalier.
Other variables include whether a staffer has a law degree or an accounting degree, whether they specialize in taxes that affect certain types of businesses, and their expertise in specific areas like international taxes.
In addition to matching staffers’ pedigrees to new employers’ longer-term needs, Hill hires will bring short-term benefits by helping translate the legislative intent of the many tax law provisions going through the rulemaking process now and for the foreseeable future, Gerson said. That can give their new employers a big leg up on a complex law that faces a lot of regulatory uncertainty.
Bernie Becker contributed to this report.
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