Several of Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) former staffers expect their own fortunes to rise with Reid’s as he uses K Street to help achieve Democratic legislative goals and enhance his political power.
Six former Reid staffers are now working as lobbyists for corporations, law firms and trade associations, and some say Reid will be more aggressive than his predecessor, Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), in trying to stop Republicans from monopolizing K Street as a source of campaign money.
“Reid has a fairly astute understanding of the role [lobbyists] play in the political process,” said Brent Heberlee, an attorney at Las Vegas-based Sawyer Miller. “Despite the minority rule in House and Senate, he recognizes the importance of reaching out to the lobbying community for the Democratic Party and for his job as the leader in the Senate.”
“Reid understands that downtown is one more lever of power to be exercised,” a lobbyist said.
Other members of Reid’s K Street Cabinet include Ford Motor Co.’s legislative manager Peter Arapis, Greenberg Traurig’s director of governmental affairs Eddie Ayoob, the American Health Care Association’s Steve Miller, Citigroup vice president Jimmy Ryan and Dykema Gossett’s Larry Werner.
Several of the lobbyists said that Reid’s promotion already has been beneficial for their clients.
“I’ve got a lot of attention because of the newfound access,” said another lobbyist, who asked that he not be identified.
Heberlee has added some Nevada-based and corporate clients to his portfolio, including SBC, BellSouth and Reno’s Washoe county, Nevada’s second largest. He is also negotiating with several large corporations.
All of the lobbyists started on Capitol Hill interning or sorting mail or worked on Reid’s 1992 and 1998 reelection campaigns.
“Writing mail was an eye-opening experience, especially with a law degree,” said Ayoob, who worked his way up to legislative counsel, where he developed close working relationships with Republicans.
Arapis and Werner have known Reid for nearly two decades. Arapis joined Reid’s House staff in 1985 as a graduate student, while Werner covered Reid in the state Legislature and in Congress as a political reporter in Las Vegas. In 1989, he was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize while at the Seattle Post Intelligencer, and he joined Reid’s staff after the 1992 campaign.
In the 1990s, a younger crew of staffers, including Ryan, Heberlee and Ayoob, joined Reid’s Senate staff.
In 1993, Ryan was working for the Senate Judiciary Committee while in this third year at Catholic University’s law school. Susan McHugh, Reid’s communications director-turned-chief of staff, put him in touch with Reid, who was looking for an aide to work on the crime bill. Ryan worked his way up from legal counsel to legislative director to floor director before joining Citigroup in 2003.
Heberlee, 38, was an intern in Reid’s office before going to work for then-Sen. Richard Bryant (D-Nev.), who retired in 2000. He lobbied for SBC Communications before joining Sawyer Miller, where Bryant is a partner and where each of Reid’s four sons has worked. Late last year, Sawyer Miller opened a Washington office.
As minority leader, Reid continues listening to his former staffers in formal and informal discussions. A lobbyist with a major corporate client said that Reid has expressed interest in understanding issues, such as healthcare, facing manufacturing industries.
“His larger interests are in Nevada,” Werner said of Reid, who is scheduled to address the state Legislature today.
Each lobbyist said that Nevada’s gaming industry and commercial real-estate sector stand to benefit from Reid’s new job. Some large companies, such as Microsoft and Dell, have moved distribution facilities to Nevada, the fastest growing state in the nation.
As important as those corporate interests are, some nonbusiness issues, including mental health, are equally important to Reid.
Werner’s practice trends toward advocacy issues, such as mental health, and small business clients. He represents the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance and the Counsel of Energy Resource Tribes, which develops natural resources on tribal land.
For now, Reid plans to navigate between working with Republicans while ceding them no political ground.
“He’s a good legislator, and in order to compromise you need to know where everybody is coming from,” Ayoob said. “And how can you do that if you don’t use K Street or business as part of that equation?”