Life after congress: Political headhunters

A statue of George Washington stands in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol August 28, 2012 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.

On the program last month, we talked to the former governor of Minnesota and Republican presidential candidate, Tim Pawlenty. He'd just started a new job with the Financial Services Roundtable -- lobbying in Washington. And during the conversation, we asked how he came by it. He responded: "Well I was contacted by an executive search firm taht was trying to fill the vacancy is the technical answer."

Who would've thunk it? Politicians get head-hunted.

Leslie Hortum is a partner at Spencer Stuart in Washington, D.C. They're an executive search firm and though Hortum had nothing to do with getting Gov. Pawlenty getting paired up with the Financial Services Roundtable, she's done her share of 'politican placement'.

She says all is not created equal in the world of former lawmakers entering the private sector, rather "the perception is that a former governor has more management experience. The rule of thumb is that no one ever hired a former member of congress to manage things."

But of course companies looking to fill a hole in their executive board and the former lawmakers they hope to recruit have to be careful to avoid a conflict of interest. Hortum says "we are mindful of that," and that if a governor or congressmember were to start talking with a potential future employer before their term is up, laws would require them "to recuse themselves from particular issues affecting that industry."

So what makes a "former elected" worth more than others? It depends, says Hortum. Longevity of their elected career can help. So can their ability to reach across the aisle to work on bipartisan projects.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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