Eric Cantor’s Loss Could Be the Best Thing That’s Happened to Him

OK, seriously though, he stands to make a lot of money.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) speaks to the media during a news conference on Capitol Hill, May 20, 2014 in Washington, DC. 
National Journal
Elahe Izadi and Brian Resnick
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Elahe Izadi Brian Resnick
June 11, 2014, 5:28 p.m.

Yes, Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Eric Can­tor’s primary loss was a huge up­set, a shock­er, lit­er­ally his­tor­ic in nature. And Can­tor must be, to say the very least, down in the dumps about it. His col­leagues have been speak­ing in lan­guage of death and mourn­ing. House Speak­er John Boehner said Tues­day night that his “thoughts are with him and Di­ana and their kids to­night.”

But once everything settles and Can­tor fig­ures out what ex­actly he wants to do after his term in Con­gress ends, one op­tion re­mains ex­ceed­ingly at­tract­ive and ab­surdly luc­rat­ive: K Street. If he chooses that route, he’d be fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of many oth­er high-pro­file con­gress­men who have traded le­gis­la­tion for lob­by­ing.

It’s a very com­mon path. Ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ter for Re­spons­ive Polit­ics, 31 rep­res­ent­at­ives out of 97 who left after the 112th Con­gress are now em­ployed in lob­by­ing or are cli­ents of lob­by­ing firms. (See a list of rep­res­ent­at­ives from the 112th Con­gress now on K Street here.) De­pend­ing on the rep­res­ent­at­ives’ ten­ure and com­mit­tee ap­point­ments, salar­ies can reach the mil­lions. The Hill re­cently re­por­ted that House Ways and Means Com­mit­tee Chair­man Dave Camp could fetch $1 mil­lion on K Street after he leaves Con­gress.

“So the ques­tion is, how rich does Eric Can­tor want to be?”

Can­tor could be the most power­ful mem­ber of Con­gress out of a job next year, mean­ing he would com­mand a very high salary.

Un­der cur­rent law, rep­res­ent­at­ives have to wait a year be­fore be­ing able to lobby Con­gress (though there are loop­holes).

Ca­reer op­por­tun­it­ies out­side of K Street can also be very luc­rat­ive for former mem­bers of Con­gress. Jim De­Mint was one of the poorest sen­at­ors in 2010, worth only around $40,000. Now, as the pres­id­ent of the con­ser­vat­ive Her­it­age Found­a­tion, he likely makes more than $1 mil­lion a year. Chris Dodd, former Sen­ate Bank­ing Com­mit­tee chair­man and pres­id­en­tial can­did­ate, makes $2.4 mil­lion as CEO of the Mo­tion Pic­ture As­so­ci­ation of Amer­ica.

Former Rep. Jo Ann Emer­son of Mis­souri, who served on the House Ap­pro­pri­ations Com­mit­tee, resigned from Con­gress in Janu­ary 2013 to head up the Na­tion­al Rur­al Elec­tric Co­oper­at­ive. Al­though not tech­nic­ally a lob­by­ist, her group does lobby, and her pre­de­cessor (also a former con­gress­man) earned more than $1.7 mil­lion in 2011.

But Can­tor could po­ten­tially ec­lipse all of them. One former House GOP lead­er­ship aide who is now on K Street puts it this way: He’d de­mand a “gen­er­ously high” six- to low-sev­en-fig­ure salary.

“Can­tor has the freshest and strongest re­la­tion­ships with both lead­er­ship and rank-and-file mem­bers than any lob­by­ist down­town,” the source adds. “He’s also hugely ad­mired and re­spec­ted by Wall Street.”

In­deed. His top three cam­paign con­trib­ut­ors for the 2013-14 cycle are from huge fin­an­cial firms: the Black­stone Group, Scog­gin Cap­it­al Man­age­ment, and Gold­man Sachs. In all, the se­cur­it­ies and in­vest­ment in­dustry gave him $2.8 mil­lion over the course of his 15-year con­gres­sion­al ca­reer. In turn, he’s de­fen­ded Wall Street in­terests in Con­gress. Dur­ing the debt-ceil­ing show­down of 2011, Can­tor fought the White House on changes to the tax code that would cost the fin­an­cial-ser­vices in­dustry $20 bil­lion over 10 years. His wife, Di­ana, has close ties to Wall Street as well, hav­ing worked at Gold­man Sachs as a vice pres­id­ent.

Those con­nec­tions also mean he’ll be a trus­ted fig­ure that in­dustry ex­ec­ut­ives would want.

One oth­er factor that will play in­to how much Can­tor could com­mand on K Street: his re­main­ing re­la­tion­ships on Cap­it­ol Hill. Re­call that Boehner and Can­tor didn’t al­ways have the warmest of re­la­tion­ships, so if Boehner stays on as speak­er, it’s an open ques­tion how much Boehner will re­strict Can­tor’s ac­cess on the Hill.

But, as an­oth­er former seni­or Re­pub­lic­an Hill aide with K Street ex­per­i­ence said, Can­tor’s re­la­tion­ships with com­mit­tee chair­men, and how much he’s helped them get their posts, will make him more valu­able.

“The trick with K Street, though, is that some­times all it takes is one ma­jor re­la­tion­ship to make a lot of money. For in­stance, there are plenty lob­by­ists who eas­ily make sev­en di­gits just be­cause they have one re­la­tion­ship with one com­mit­tee chair,” the GOP source said. “So the ques­tion is, how rich does Eric Can­tor want to be?”

Fu­ture earn­ing po­ten­tial aside, Can­tor is already in­de­pend­ently wealthy. Ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ter for Re­spons­ive Polit­ics, Can­tor’s net worth is between $2.1 mil­lion and $7.7 mil­lion. His wife has most re­cently served as dir­ect­or at Dom­ino’s Pizza. Ac­cord­ing to Na­tion­al Journ­al‘s Shane Gold­mach­er, as of June 2013, the Can­tors earned more than $3 mil­lion in Dom­ino’s stock and in­come. In 2013, Di­ana Can­tor made $231,444 in com­pens­a­tion at Dom­ino’s, on top of $371,752 she made from work at Re­vlon, the Uni­ver­sal Cor­por­a­tion, and Me­dia Gen­er­al.

As for the ma­jor­ity lead­er, he said any plans bey­ond Con­gress are “between my wife and me and I will be look­ing to see how I can best serve, how I can best be a part of what we really have been about here with the agenda called, an Amer­ica that works.”

If Can­tor does go to K Street, he would be no dif­fer­ent from many, many oth­er mem­bers of Con­gress. That’s the ex­pec­ted job tra­ject­ory. It’s just that Tues­day night’s loss ex­ped­ited his op­por­tun­ity to cash out.

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