Former Rep. Jerry Costello, D-Ill., left Congress almost three years ago, and is now making almost three times his old salary lobbying for companies, trade associations and unions.
The 12-term former lawmaker earned $480,000 in the first nine months of this year, according to federal lobbying disclosures. The base salary for members of Congress and the Senate is $174,000 a year.
Costello’s clients include aerospace giant Boeing, the Association of American Railroads, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association and Veolia Environment, a company that operates a hazardous waste incinerator in St. Clair County, Ill.
Costello’s path is not unusual: 427 former members of Congress are registered lobbyists, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a watchdog group that tracks Washington influence. Their experience and connections make them valuable to groups who want to communicate with current members of Congress and federal regulatory agencies.
Christopher Mooney, director of the Institute of Government & Public Affairs at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, said Costello is “one in a long tradition of former members of Congress who use their expertise and relationships.”
“He’s got a lot to offer groups and individuals that want to have some influence in Congress,” Mooney said.
After a cooling-off period that bars former members from directly lobbying their colleagues for one year, they can work for anyone, within the limits of the law.
“It’s legal, and as long as there’s full disclosure, then people can make up their own mind,” said David Yepsen, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale.
Costello is among 16 unpaid voting members of the institute’s Board of Counselors, which meets annually and makes recommendations to the university president about the program’s mission.
427 Former members of Congress who are registered lobbyists, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Unlike many former members who cross town from Capitol Hill to work for big lobbying firms on K Street, however, Costello set up his own firm, The Jerry Costello Group, in his home base. In contrast to the high-rent marbled office buildings of downtown Washington, the address provided on his disclosure forms is a one-story brick building on a street in Belleville, Ill., with a cul-de-sac, surrounded by doctor’s offices and insurance agencies.
In an email, Costello said he does work for several clients.
“I lobby for a few and provide strategic advice and planning for the majority of my clients as a consultant,” he said.
Some former members accept clients whose interests may put them on opposite sides of the issues they advocated in Congress. But Costello hasn’t done that.
“He’s extending a lot of what he did in Congress,” Yepsen said.
Costello, first elected in 1988, was a longtime member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and served as chairman of its aviation subcommittee.
Costello was involved in writing two major highway authorization bills, an aviation safety bill and the reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration.
In his district, he’s best remembered for his work to save Scott Air Force Base from closure during rounds of the Base Realignment and Closure process, and to build the adjacent MidAmerica St. Louis Airport, a $330 million facility that’s struggled to maintain commercial air service.
Federal law requires former members of Congress to file quarterly reports disclosing their lobbying activities. While the disclosures must name clients, the descriptions of the work provided are often vague. It is sometimes difficult to tell exactly what issue or what piece of legislation was the basis for the lobbying activity.
Costello declined to elaborate on his lobbying work.
“Since these companies do not want their competitors to know their business plans or activities,” he said, “I have an agreement with them that I will not discuss their business plans or activities beyond what the law requires.”
It’s legal, and as long as there’s full disclosure, then people can make up their own mind.
David Yepsen, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute
Boeing has paid Costello $90,000 this year, and one quarterly report lists the renewal of the Export-Import Bank as a specific issue. The bank provides lines of credit backed by the U.S. government to American companies to help them compete overseas. Boeing is among the program’s biggest beneficiaries and is one of the largest employers in southern Illinois.
Many tea party-aligned Republicans in Congress wanted to abolish the bank, considering it an example of special interest politics. However, the bank was renewed in a $305 billion, five-year transportation bill passed by Congress and signed by President Barack Obama this month.
Other lobbying disclosures filed by Costello simply listed “securing federal funding” as the work done on behalf of Boeing.
“Boeing works with a variety of parties to advocate on behalf of its businesses,” said Gayla Keller, a company spokeswoman.
The National Air Traffic Controllers Association paid Costello $150,000 this year, through the end of September. Though the disclosure forms aren’t too specific, they list the FAA reauthorization as an issue. In September, Congress extended the agency’s funding by six months, but aviation groups are looking for a longer-term measure. Costello played a key role in the last major FAA bill, passed in 2007.
Veolia is seeking a new air permit from the Environmental Protection Agency for its hazardous waste incinerator in Sauget, Ill. The company had paid Costello $90,000 through the end of September, though the disclosures list only “environmental regulatory issues.”
The Association of American Railroads has paid Costello $150,000 this year. The rail industry’s principal advocacy group in Washington had several issues at stake: securing a three-year extension to install positive train control, a collision-avoidance system mandated by Congress; new safety rules that apply to the transportation of crude oil in tank cars; and an effort to increase truck sizes and weights, which railroads oppose.
Ed Greenberg, a spokesman for the association, said it hires “qualified people who have expertise in particular areas that are relevant to freight rail transportation.”
Costello was a member of the House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials. St. Louis is the nation’s third-leading rail hub, behind Chicago and Kansas City, and many railyards were in his district.
“Mr. Costello has a thorough understanding and appreciation of transportation issues and provides strategic analysis and policy advice on a number of key regulatory issues for the industry,” Greenberg added.
Former Rep. Jerry Costello has had several lobbying clients so far this year. Among them:
Association of American Railroads: $150,000
National Air Traffic Controllers Association: $150,000
Veolia Environment: $90,000