Time to sell out: Ex-Sen. Saxby Chambliss joins huge lobbying firm -- but not to lobby, of course

Plenty of retired and defeated lawmakers are now looking for work. What "corporate stuff" will they end up doing?

Published January 8, 2015 7:57PM (EST)

Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga.         (AP/Cliff Owen)
Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga. (AP/Cliff Owen)

You can release your breath now, everyone, because it's all going to be okay: former Senator Saxby Chambliss is not -- NOT -- going to starve. He's landed a gig at law/lobbying firm DLA Piper. After an precarious 2-3 days of unemployment, in which the ex-Senator nearly had to resort begging on the street corners of Atlanta for farthings or a hot cup of soup, sporting tattered hand-me-down rags unbefitting of statesman, he has somehow managed to find employment at one of DC's premier influence shops.

Chambliss was frequently listed as one of the "poorest" senators, meaning that, in addition to his $174,000 senatorial salary, he only had a couple hundred thousand dollars in the bank. Can't put many steaks in the freezer when you're dancing that close to the poverty line. But those austere days are over now. We don't know how much cash Chambliss will be pulling at DLA Piper, but it's probably somewhere north of "a lot."

Since he's one of the first retiring/defeated senators to sell out, let's look at which of the 10 million loopholes he's choosing to bypass the law against becoming a lobbyist for two years after leaving Congress. It typically involves not registering as a "lobbyist" in the strictest technical since. Registering as a lobbyist is very 20th century. Much easier to just be a "strategic advisor," "strategic consultant," etc. Or how about plain old "lawyer"?

The firm says he will be based out of the firm’s Atlanta office — “advising clients across the country” — but will also do business in DLA Piper’s Washington office.

He faces a two-year cooling off period before he can legally lobby his former colleagues, though he toldThe Atlanta Journal Constitution he would not go the K Street advocacy route.

“I’m not going to lobby. That’s part of my deal. I’m not a lobbyist. I’m on the legal side of the firm,” he told the publication in a telephone interview on Wednesday evening.

He also mentioned being able to use his defense and cybersecurity policy expertise and develop contacts from within the firm’s offices in 30 countries throughout the world.

Right. So, here's what Saxby Chambliss will do now: he will sit in an office and tell corporations or foreign governments or whatever how to get what they want. He will tell them who to talk to in government and put them in touch with them. He is selling connections, which may not technically be lobbying -- he's not going to sit in meetings with Hill staffers, etc. -- and that's why they're hiring him, not because of his LSAT score. "Senator Chambliss is deeply respected in Washington and abroad and has extensive relationships among government and corporate leaders, is how one "Roger Meltzer, global co-chair and co-chair (Americas) of DLA Piper" puts it.

It's the way that Chambliss describes his complementary post-Senate plans, though, that gets to the core of what the post-office cash out is really all about. He tells the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that in addition to his humble international lawyering gig, he'll also do "some other corporate stuff." By that he means joining a corporate board or two.

"Some corporate stuff" is the most honest way to describe what these ex-lawmakers are getting into. Former House majority leader Eric Cantor was never a banker but is now paid several million dollars per year as the vice chairman of an investment bank. Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty worked for a software company before politics but is now CEO of the Financial Services Roundtable. Former Sen. Chris Dodd, a politician's son, pretty much went straight from law school into Congress, and now he runs the Motion Picture Association of America. And on and on and on. It doesn't matter what "corporate stuff" it is, or what job title is given. The duty is just to hook up the best-paying corporate players with some inside info.

By Jim Newell

Jim Newell covers politics and media for Salon.

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Congress Dla Piper Editor's Picks Lobbying Revolving Door Saxby Chambliss