Seeking Work After Congress? Sharp Partisans Need Not Apply

But there is another big reason departing members of Congress are not as attractive as they once were: the sharp partisan atmosphere on Capitol Hill. Association leaders have to work with people of all political persuasions, and many of those coming off of Capitol Hill these days are inextricably linked to one political perspective or the other, diminishing their marketability afterward.

“Partisanship today is a factor,” said Dave McCurdy, the former centrist Democratic House member from Oklahoma who has overseen three trade groups and is retiring from the American Gas Association — and Washington itself — early next year. “I was selected because they knew I had respect on both sides of the aisle, that I could talk to both sides of the aisle and that I was a fact-based leader.”

Mr. Sommers agreed that today’s intense political environment was a factor for association search committees. “The member companies, I think, see Washington as a place that has become so partisan,” he said. “If you hire a partisan who has been on the ballot, that is not how you want your trade association to be portrayed. It is not that former members or former senators aren’t capable; they are. They could run these trade associations. But I think they are not being hired by what outside of Washington views as dysfunction.”

Some Washington groups continue to be supervised by former lawmakers such as James C. Greenwood, a former Republican House member from Pennsylvania who leads the Biotechnology Innovation Organization, and Calvin M. Dooley, a former Democratic House member from California who is president of the American Chemistry Council after running other trade organizations. But they are a diminishing presence.

In the past five months, more than half a dozen top association jobs have gone to former high-level nonelected officials from Capitol Hill or the executive branch or to seasoned executives from other associations. And in at least two cases, the new heads replaced former elected officials who left — Tim Pawlenty, the former Republican governor from Minnesota, at the Financial Services Roundtable, and Dirk Kempthorne, the former Republican governor and senator from Idaho, at the American Council of Life Insurers. This week, the Distilled Spirits Council hired Chris R. Swonger, a longtime government affairs specialist, as its new leader.

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