Ileana Ros-Lehtinen joins K Street lobbying shop

The first Hispanic woman in Congress is trading in Capitol Hill for K Street.

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is joining Akin Gump, one of Washington’s largest lobbying firms, which has clients around the world. Ros-Lehtinen joins the firm as a “senior advisor” because she is not allowed to formally lobby Congress for at least one year after leaving office.

“One of the things that attracted me to Akin Gump was its broad and established client base across Latin America,” Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement. “I look forward to working with many of the firm’s clients there, including in places such as Argentina, Columbia, Mexico and throughout Central America, to help them address their public policy goals and challenges.”

Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican, was the first woman to lead the House Foreign Affairs Committee and was the first Cuban-American from South Florida in Congress. Her extensive knowledge on foreign relations and contacts around the world are undoubtedly helpful for prospective clients and she is known as one of the biggest opponents of autocratic leaders like Fidel Castro and Nicolás Maduro.

But Ros-Lehtinen’s move, which is likely to come with a bump in pay from her $174,000 salary as an elected official, comes with scrutiny as the latest example of a “revolving door” where lawmakers and staffers leave their taxpayer-funded jobs to become lobbyists.

Craig Holman, a lobbyist with the left-leaning think-tank Public Citizen, said members of Congress are able to evade restrictions on lobbying after leaving office by doing all the work a lobbyist would on behalf of a client except making direct lobbying contact with public officials. Former lawmakers are able to conduct research, prepare a campaign and advise a client on what to talk about and who to talk to on Capitol Hill, without directly reaching out or sitting in on a meeting with a current lawmaker.

“The revolving door restriction is not very strong,” Holman said, adding that 43 percent of recently retired lawmakers have joined lobbying firms. “If we had our druthers, we would prohibit any former member from strategic consulting or lobbying for two or ideally five years.”

Holman said Ros-Lehtinen would be able to work on behalf of foreign governments after leaving office with no restrictions because she is not an executive branch official. The Center for Responsive Politics lists 425 former members of Congress who engaged in lobbying activities after leaving office.

Ros-Lehtinen’s announcement comes on the same day that former Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl announced that he will rejoin a Washington lobbying firm after serving in the U.S. Senate for a few months after the death of John McCain. Kyl, who also served in the Senate from 1995 until 2013, left Congress to become a lobbyist five years ago before rejoining the Senate in September 2018.

Akin Gump, which reported over $28 million in lobbying expenses in 2018 and is one of the most profitable law firms in the world, praised Ros-Lehtinen’s trailblazing work in Congress in her hiring announcement. Former Texas Republican Rep. Lamar Smith is also joining the firm.

“As a firm that operates at the intersection of business, law and policy, we recognize the valuable skills, knowledge and perspectives that Reps. Ros-Lehtinen and Smith bring to our clients,” said Akin Gump chairperson Kim Koopersmith in a statement. “They will be great additions to our top-tier policy practice, and I am very proud to welcome two individuals with such long and distinguished careers on Capitol Hill to the firm.”

Ros-Lehtinen’s announcement comes on the same day that former Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo announced that he is joining a Columbia University think-tank focused on energy and climate issues. Curbelo worked closely with the think-tank on his carbon tax proposal, which expired at the end of the last Congress after Curbelo lost reelection.

Ros-Lehtinen will also teach a class at the University of Miami and lecture at Georgetown University. Curbelo may run for Miami-Dade mayor in 2020.