Former senator Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.), following a bipartisan path blazed by many prominent ex-members of Congress, has moved from Capitol Hill to K Street, joining Alston & Bird as a special adviser in the law firm's legislative and public policy group.
Daschle, 57, the former Democratic leader in the Senate, starts work today providing the Atlanta-based firm's corporate clients strategic advice on such issues as energy, health care, financial services, tax policy, trade and agriculture. He was recruited by another former Senate leader, Republican Robert J. Dole, 81, who joined the firm as a special counsel in 2003.
Neither Daschle nor his new employer would discuss how much he will be paid. Other influential former members of Congress have drawn annual compensation packages of as much as $1 million and higher after making such moves. Dole has been reported to earn $800,000 to $1 million annually, a range the Republican called "more or less" accurate in an interview Friday.
Daschle, whose record of taking on the Bush administration probably cost him support in South Dakota, was denied a fourth term in the Senate after Republican John Thune defeated him Nov. 2. Dole soon sought him out to offer condolences and plant the idea of working at Alston & Bird.
"He was kind enough to come to my office and talk to me about this last year after the election," Daschle said Friday. "And he made several calls between then and now. He's just been tremendously welcoming."
Dole said the Democrat would be a valuable asset to the firm even though Congress is run by the GOP these days.
"He's got a lot of friends in the Senate, and I've got a lot of friends in the Senate, and, combined, who knows -- we might have 51," Dole joked. "It's going to work fine. You need some flexibility and diversity. I don't think any successful firm is all Democrat or all Republican."
Daschle is merely the latest high-profile former lawmaker to jump to the lucrative world of lobbying and law firm work in what has become an increasing trend.
Others who recently made the switch include John Breaux, former Democratic senator from Louisiana who became a senior counsel at Patton Boggs, and W.J. "Billy" Tauzin (R-La.), former chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce who is the new head of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.
"The revolving door is just spinning out of control these days," said Craig Holman, legislative representative for Public Citizen, a nonprofit consumer advocacy group.
Holman said that in the 1970s only about 3 percent of retiring members of Congress wound up in K Street law and lobbying firms. These days, the figure is more like 32 percent, he said, in part fueled by the dramatic increase in pay for such positions.
Daschle, who will maintain a home in South Dakota, said he was attracted to Alston & Bird in part because of the firm's willingness to let him pursue outside projects. Within the next few weeks, he plans to announce an affiliation with a university, and he also wants to take on a separate project involving Native American issues, he said. Daschle said he will go on the paid-speaking circuit and that he recently joined an advisory board for InterMedia Advisors, a New York-based private investment firm.
"They've been very kind to allow me the flexibility to put some time into other activities that I care a lot about," he said of Alston & Bird.
Daschle, whose wife, Linda, is an airline industry lobbyist at another firm, cannot legally lobby his former colleagues for one year. The former senator and his new employer say they don't expect him to do much traditional lobbying anyway.
"It will be more meeting with clients and providing broad strategic advice as to how to deal with matters both domestically here in Washington as well as internationally," said Frank M. Conner, the partner in charge of Alston & Bird's Washington office.
Conner said hiring Daschle is part of an effort to increase the firm's visibility. The 700-attorney firm's gross revenue increased 21 percent in 2003, to $362.5 million, putting it at No. 50 in American Lawyer magazine's most recent rankings of the nation's top law firms.