McCormick Group Principal Ivan Adler was quoted in Roll Call on job prospects for Eric Cantor’s former top aides.
By Kate Ackley | October 8, 2014
Many of the Virginia Republican’s former congressional staff members, meanwhile, had to scramble for employment after he unexpectedly lost his seat in a June primary to a little-known economics professor, Dave Brat.
Most of Cantor’s aides have since found permanent spots — in the private sector, on Capitol Hill or on the campaign trail. The ones still looking say they’re closing in on their future moves, though it can be an arduous effort.
“You’re trying to navigate a process that is complicated and exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time,” says Steve Stombres, Cantor’s leadership chief of staff. “Between interviews and going out and talking to people about what they did, the mistakes they made and setting up meetings every day and lunches and coffees — it is a full-time job.”
He has edited résumés and made calls advocating for his one-time staffers, from the most senior to the most junior.
For instance, Stombres helped Molly Edwards, a staff assistant in Cantor’s office who graduated from the University of North Carolina two years ago, secure a press assistant job at the House Ways and Means Committee.
Kristi Way, Cantor’s long-time personal office chief of staff was the lone employee who went with her boss to Moelis & Co.
Cantor’s successor as majority leader, Californian Kevin McCarthy, has hired a number of Cantor’s policy experts including deputy chief of staff Neil Bradley, who had also spent five years as executive director of the Republican Study Committee, and Robert Borden, the director of oversight.
McCarthy also added Cantor senior policy advisers Robert Karem, who specializes in defense and foreign policy, and Roger Mahan, the top aide for budget and appropriations.
Cantor’s former staff assistant Lawson Kluttz is McCarthy’s new special assistant.
Meanwhile, Nicole Gustafson, a senior policy adviser to Cantor and his chief legislative counsel, has joined the staff of House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, a Louisiana Republican, as a policy and coalitions aide.
Closing Up Shop
Stombres says his one-time chief of staff Dan Scandling was a role model in how to approach the transition when a member of Congress leaves office. Scandling was the top aide to Republican Rep. Herb Bateman of Virginia when Bateman died in office in 2000, leaving Stombres and others scrambling for new employment. This fall, Scandling is closing out the office of another Virginia Republican, Frank Wolf, who is retiring after 33 years.
In the case of Cantor’s staff after his surprise loss, “Everyone kind of came together as a team,” says Chris Vieson, Cantor’s director of floor operations who recently signed on as a partner in the lobbying firm Public Strategies Washington.
Vieson, his new shop’s only Republican, says he’ll focus on building out the GOP side of the practice.
Others who, like Vieson, parachuted over to K Street include Rory Cooper, who joined the bipartisan firm Purple Strategies, which uses political campaign-style advocacy and polling research on behalf of mostly corporate and nonprofit clients.
Cantor policy adviser Wyatt Stewart got a job as director of federal government affairs for the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America. Sarah Morgan, a deputy floor director, went to McGraw Hill Financial where she is now a senior research specialist in the global government and public policy division.
Deputy scheduler Courtney Joseph was one of the first Cantor aides to snag a job, joining as manager of operations at the D.C. outpost of MacAndrews & Forbes Holdings Inc., which is owned by billionaire investor Ronald O. Perelman.
Press secretary Megan Whittemore joined the Senate campaign of Georgia Republican David Perdue, while Nick Marcelli signed up as creative director at the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Health care policy expert Cheryl Jaeger, along with Aaron Cutler, a senior advisor for policy and outreach, and communications guru Doug Heye are expected to decamp soon for K Street.
Finding the Right Route
Stombres made up his mind immediately after Cantor’s loss that he would leave the Hill and pursue a private-sector job. He set out to figure out the pros and cons of working at lobby shops and trade associations and working in-house with corporations.
“Everybody had told me: ‘You’re never going to have the same sort of adrenaline and excitement you get from working day to day in the House,” Stombres says. “But there are parts of my job that I want to replicate. I loved the fact that every day, Eric and I had a list of 10 things that had to get done, and eight of them were impossible. I loved being part of a team that’s very close-knit.”
The most surprising part of the job search so far, he says: “It takes a lot of interviews.”
High-level former leadership aides such as Stombres may be the most appealing to K Street, but they are also the most expensive. Firms make such hires, in the current economy, very cautiously.
“Law firms, lobby firms, special interest groups, nobody wants to make a mistake in hiring, so the process, especially for senior-level folks, has been elongated,” says K Street recruiter Ivan Adler of the McCormick Group, who does not represent any of the Cantor aides who are looking for work, though he says he’s had conversations with many of them.
Adler says the downsides of hiring Hill aides include potential lobbying restrictions and, more importantly, uncertainty about which staffers will morph into successful lobbyists.
No one likes a forced transition, Adler says, “but this is part of the job when you work on the Hill.”
No matter that uncertainty, many Cantor office alumni say they just couldn’t depart Capitol Hill