The $2 million man

Marketplace Staff Jul 11, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: The revolving door is a Washington institution. Lawmakers and staffers leave Capitol Hill to make big bucks working for lobbying firms down on K Street. And sometimes, later, they give up the paychecks. Back up to Congress and a better staff job. But commentator Jeff Birnbaum has found a twist in the usual financial pattern.

JEFF BIRNBAUM: You’ve probably never heard of Jeff Shockey. So, for simplicity’s sake, think of him as the $2 Million Man.

Last year, this 40-year-old congressional staffer collected nearly $2 million in severance payments from his former employer, a K Street lobbying firm.

That’s unusual for a bunch of reasons.

The first is that this lobbying shop specializes in winning benefits from the very committee that Shockey now serves.

The second is that Shockey himself urged his former lobbying clients to stay with the firm in exchange for the massive payout.

Now, lobbying firms often give a parting gift to colleagues who go into public service just so they don’t forget them.

But the amount tends to be nominal to avoid even the appearance of that no-no of paying off a federal official in exchange for favorable treatment.

So, why would Shockey’s former firm pay him so much? Well, lobbyists say it’s obvious the company wants to keep its communications seamless.

After all, Shockey is currently deputy chief of staff of the powerful House Appropriations Committee.

And long ago, he worked for Congressman Jerry Lewis of California, who is now the committee’s chairman.

Along the way, Shockey’s lobbying earned him millions. In 2004 he made $2 million, twice what the city’s top lobbyists earned at the time.

In fact, Shockey was on track to make $3 million in 2005, the year he returned to government as the No. 2 staffer for appropriations.

Even K Street veterans are shaking their heads in disbelief over the size of Shockey’s payout and the fact that he got it while working as a congressional aide.

Shockey says he followed all the rules. And spokesmen for him and his old firm say what he got was just fair market value for his share of the firm.

But come on, don’t you think that $2 million might buy more than merely goodwill?

RYSSDAL: Jeff Birnbaum is a columnist for the Washington Post.

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