Ex-Western Pa. lawmakers slip into private-sector niches
By Richard Gazarik
Published: Friday, March 8, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Two former local congressmen have parlayed the knowledge they gained in office into potentially lucrative private-sector careers.
Former Democratic Rep. Mark Critz said he's helping energy-related companies successfully negotiate the government's legislative and regulatory maze, while fellow Democrat Jason Altmire has returned to his health care roots as a lobbyist.
Critz, 51, of Johnstown, has joined EIS Solutions as a senior vice president. The Colorado-based company is opening an office in Johnstown.
Simply put, Critz said, the firm assists companies in understanding what's expected of them when they undertake projects involving federal regulations.
“EIS inserts itself in the beginning of the process and holds the company's hand,” Critz said.
A former top staff member for the late Rep. John Murtha, Critz was defeated in the fall by Republican Keith Rothfus for the 12th District seat.
Critz said his work in Congress made him a natural for his new position.
“EIS has seen how vocal I have been on energy issues,” he said.
Federal records show Critz received campaign donations from the energy industry. While in office, he co-chaired the House Marcellus Shale Natural Gas Caucus. He voted for legislation opposing further development of solar energy and in favor of extending the Keystone Pipeline, which would transport oil from Canada to refineries in the United States.
EIS Vice President Mike Mikus, who managed political campaigns for Critz and Allegheny County Chief Executive Rich Fitzgerald, said that unlike Altmire, Critz will do no lobbying.
“Our firm doesn't do lobbying,” said Mikus, who now runs the firm's Bridgeville office. “He's not going to be sitting down one-on-one with officials. He won't be on the House floor.”
Altmire, 45, formerly of Cranberry, is returning to an earlier career of influencing lawmakers in a new job as senior vice president for government policy with Florida Blue, the Blue Cross Blue Shield provider in Jacksonville, Fla.
Altmire's congressional career ended last year when Pennsylvania lost a seat in Congress based on the 2010 Census and his 4th District was rolled into the neighboring 12th and 19th districts.
He was forced into an unsuccessful primary runoff in the 12th District against Critz, who was later beaten by Rothfus.
Prior to serving in Congress, Altmire was government affairs director for UPMC. Before that, he was an aide to Florida Congressman Douglas Peterson, specializing in health care issues.
Altmire is not a federally registered lobbyist, which would require him to file ethical and financial disclosure forms about his activities.
Although he's not a lobbyist in the true legal sense, a spokesman for his new employer confirmed he's definitely attempting to shape political views, at least in regard to the Florida Legislature.
Altmire was not available for comment this week because he was busy lobbying state lawmakers in Tallahassee, Florida Blue spokesman Mark Wright said.
Federal law prohibits Altmire from lobbying members of Congress for one year after leaving office.
Like his two District 4 predecessors — Republican Melissa Hart, 50, who held the seat from 2001 to 2007, and former TV weatherman Ron Klink, 61, a Democrat who served from 1993 to 2001 — Altmire stands to earn much more peddling his political influence than serving in public office.
Members of Congress earn $174,000 a year, according to federal records.
Former lawmakers can see their salaries increase by as much as 1,452 percent when they become lobbyists, according to a study by the grass-roots advocacy group Public Report.
The group cited former U.S. Rep. James Greenwood of Philadelphia, who earned $6.6 million between 2005 and 2010 as a lobbyist for the Biotechnology Industry Organization
Both Hart and Klink are registered lobbyists, routinely disclosing ethical and financial information relating to their work.
Hart, of Bradford Woods, heads the government relations practice group for the Keevican Weiss Bauerke & and Hirsch Law Firm in Pittsburgh. Klink, of Murrysville, runs Ron Klink & Associates, whose website lists offices in Murrysville and Washington, D.C., and the Port Authority of Allegheny County, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and Beaver County among the firm's clients.
Altmire's path is not unique, according to William V. Luneberg, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh and member of an American Bar Association task force on lobbying reform.
“This is not something new,” Luneberg said. “In the last 30 years ... this is a typical pattern.”
Lisa Rosenberg of the Sunlight Foundation, a nonpartisan group working for transparent government, was critical of those who avoid registering as lobbyists by “hiding” behind titles such as consultant or adviser. Some groups give staff members executive titles to avoid being considered a lobbying firm, she said.
Influencing politicians' opinions is big business, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which reported lobbying-related spending increased from $1.4 billion to $3.3 billion from 1998 until last year.
In the past decade, more than 400 lawmakers have become lobbyists, according to the center.
Richard Gazarik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6292 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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