How will lobbying change now that Paul Ryan is Speaker of the House? McCormick Group Principal Ivan Adler weighs in for Politico.
By Anna Palmer | November 2, 2015
Paul Ryan is not a creature of K Street: The GOP’s ultimate policy guru has spent most of his career on Capitol Hill but is known to be more interested in the opinions of think tankers and wonks than the traditional influence set.
“Paul has never been a downtown guy, and I don’t expect that to change,” said his spokesman, Brendan Buck.
That has K Street preparing for a new world order in the post-John Boehner House.
Downtowners are anxious to see what kind of treatment they’ll get from the Wisconsin Republican compared with the clubby Boehner. At the same time, they’re bullish that the new speaker will be able to break the logjam on some of their top priorities, such as reforms to taxes and entitlements.
Boehner schmoozed his network of lobbyists and former staffers, a group so ubiquitous on D.C.’s cocktail circuit it was dubbed “Boehnerland.” He favored golf fundraisers and other junkets that allowed lobbyists and industry executives to spend several hours at a time with him. He was interested in their opinions, often asking K Streeters what they thought about legislative priorities and tactics.
And whereas Boehner was willing to do a favor for a friend, several lobbyists said they don’t expect the same from Ryan.
“When you are a policy wonk, but also a transformative crusader as he is, that makes lobbyists nervous,” said Stephen Pinkos, a former House GOP leadership aide now at American Continental Group. “He’ll put philosophy above transactions.”
Cesar Conda, a former chief of staff to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and staff director for former Sen. Bob Kasten (R-Wis.), agreed. Conda worked on the Small Business Committee when Ryan was a staffer on the panel.
“He’s certainly open to listening to people and hearing out their points of views on various issues,” said Conda, now at Navigators Global. “But he’ll always make a decision based on what he believes is the right policy.”
As well-liked as Boehner is on K Street, there’s also pent-up frustration that issues they’ve been hired to work on have been bottled up in Congress for years. The hope is that Ryan can change that.
Another source of optimism: The new speaker is expected to create a spike in lobbying retainers going into a presidential election year, a time when companies typically draw down Washington spending.
“Business likes him. This is a guy they think can finally break the gridlock of Capitol Hill and get some things going, especially on the tax side, which would be an absolute boon to K Street because it’s a game that everybody plays in,” said Ivan Adler, a headhunter at the McCormick Group.
The stated affection isn’t mutual. While Ryan certainly has built up a stable of friends and connections to K Street during his nine terms in office and before that as a staffer, the former GOP vice presidential nominee has long viewed interest groups and the private sector with a wary eye.
“Paul feels strongly about policy, and add to that Paul is his own top staffer,” said former Rep. Vin Weber (R-Minn.), a longtime friend to Ryan who is now at Mercury. “Anytime you deal with Paul on an issue, he knows more than just about anybody in the room.”
The question many are still trying to game out is whether Ryan will be forced to take a different tack than when he headed up the Budget and Ways and Means committees. Downtowners spend less time lobbying the budget since it is more of a philosophical document for the party, and Ryan didn’t seek out their ideas on it.
The tax-writing panel and the legislation it produces, on the other hand, are crucial for lobbyists, who spend time trying to insert language for clients.
Ryan headed the coveted Ways and Means panel for less than a year, but his work pushing through major trade legislation and an overhaul of how Medicare reimburses doctors offers clues about how he might operate as speaker.
As head of the panel, Ryan continued to keep downtown at arm’s length. He didn’t have a robust operation that built coalitions with K Street power players. And according to several lobbyists, Ryan didn’t have much patience for lobbyists telling him certain provisions or language were nonstarters.
They said that when Ryan and his staff met with industry representatives, it was mostly to provide technical information regarding legislation. Most of the work building alliances with lobbyists was left to Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.).
Even Ryan’s fundraising operation didn’t aggressively woo downtowners. While most chairmen and GOP leaders host trips for their leadership political action committees and invite a stable of lobbyists, Ryan has not done that in the past