“Dear Managing Partner,” the letter to 17 law firms began. It proclaimed the new status of lame-duck Republican congressman Chuck Douglas of New Hampshire. It stated: “Having just been defeated in an upset race for reelection to Congress, I am now looking to renew my life in the law. As a member of Congress grandfathered under the existing rules of ethics, I may begin any representational activities without delay of access to the floor or committee staff. . . . Feel free to contact my staff legal counsel . . . if you have any questions.”
Every two years, the revolving door whirls on Capitol Hill and along Pennsylvania Avenue as lawyers answer the lucrative call to private practice. This season, with new prohibitions on lobbying set to take effect Jan. 1, the door was expected to revolve even faster. Still, no one recalls a lawyer-turned-legislator seeking the exit quite so baldly.
“Gauche,” sniffed one managing partner who received Douglas’ missive. “The word that comes to mind is, ah, tacky,” said another lawyer. “I don’t wish him any ill will,” said a partner at another firm, “and he can have any career he wants in the law. But I don’t think it will be with us.”
While touting his timely loss as a way to beat the tough new lobbying ban, Douglas, a former New Hampshire Supreme Court justice, still made liberal use of his current status. He sent the job-search letter on eye-catching congressional stationery and mailed it at taxpayers’ expense.
Despite the letter’s trappings, some managing partners weren’t sure who Douglas was. But that seems fair. Douglas didn’t know who they were either. Instead of writing to them by name, he sent all of the letters off with the greeting, “Dear Managing Partner.”
James W. Jones, who heads Arnold & Porter, joked that he is not used to getting job queries “addressed to occupant.” The letter, he said, “was a little stark.” Jones’ assessment was more charitable than most.
The head of another firm said he was “offended by this hawking of influence,” and then wondered, with some amusement, just how much influence Douglas has to hawk.
“It would be one thing if Jim Wright did this,” he said. “But this guy is a one-term congressman who managed to get defeated in a year when 97% of incumbents were reelected. Who the heck does he think he’s going to influence?”
The letter, according to Douglas’ legal counsel, Roy Kime, went to 10 of Washington’s largest firms and seven Boston firms with District of Columbia offices. But the response has been rather slim. “Actually, you’re it . . . " said the nonplussed Kime recently. Douglas, a Republican freshman known for his tart tongue, his ultraconservative votes and a knack for offending everyone from fellow congressman Barney Frank of Massachusetts to White House Chief of Staff John H. Sununu, was one of a handful of incumbents to lose Nov. 6. He was defeated in a New Hampshire district that had not sent a Democrat to Congress since 1912.
Kime said Douglas certainly didn’t mean to offend anyone or to flout the new lobbying ban--which prohibits former members of Congress from lobbying their ex-colleagues or Capitol Hill staffers for a year--as he tried to turn defeat at the polls into victory on the job market.
“It was just a statement that he wouldn’t be restricted by that new law,” Kime said. As for the franked mailing, Kime said it must have been a mistake, adding that he plans to send a reimbursement check to the franking commission.
One managing partner omitted from Douglas’ list, Timothy May of Patton, Boggs & Blow, said he felt “neglected.” Still, he had one job-hunting tip for Douglas--tell the world of his apparent feud with Sununu. “That’s a great credential,” May said. “This fellow’s not all bad. You can judge a man by his enemies.”
While his job search in Washington continued, Douglas was traveling in the Far East and could not be reached for comment. His legal aide Kime had this to say of the letter: “It was not done to raise eyebrows. It was to get him a job. He needs a job.”