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Ex-Congressmen Pat Meehan, Charlie Dent, and Ryan Costello move to lobbying ranks

Two former members of the House Ethics Committee are among three Pennsylvania congressmen joining the hundreds of ex-senators and House members who now seek to influence public policy for private clients.

Former U.S. Reps. Charlie Dent (left) and Rep. Pat Meehan, Pennsylvania Republicans seen here in the U.S. Capitol in 2018, have each registered as lobbyists.
Former U.S. Reps. Charlie Dent (left) and Rep. Pat Meehan, Pennsylvania Republicans seen here in the U.S. Capitol in 2018, have each registered as lobbyists.Read moreJ. SCOTT APPLEWHITE/ASSOCIATED PRESS

WASHINGTON — Three former Pennsylvania congressmen, including two who served on the House ethics committee, are joining the hundreds of former lawmakers seeking influence with their onetime colleagues in the Capitol.

Pat Meehan of Delaware County and Charlie Dent of Allentown have already registered as lobbyists. Chester County’s Ryan Costello has announced plans to do so in January, as soon as he completes the one-year “cooling off” period required by law before ex-lawmakers can become lobbyists.

Meehan and Dent, who both sat on the ethics committee, resigned last year before completing their terms, starting the clock sooner on their waiting periods.

The three Republicans join a roster of more than 440 former senators and House members from both parties who now use their connections to attempt to sway public policy on behalf of clients, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

It’s a legal practice, but one that ethics watchdogs say adds to public cynicism about Congress. When lawmakers take jobs that trade on access, it raises questions about whether their career plans influenced their work in Congress, said Dylan Hedtler-Gaudette, a policy analyst at the Project on Government Oversight, a nonpartisan watchdog group.

“What we fear and what we see a lot is that people are cashing in on their access and their relationships, not their expertise,” added Hedtler-Gaudette. “You’re there to serve your constituents and the public, you’re not there to have some kind of lucrative post-Congress career.”

Former House members can double or triple their $174,000 salary as lobbyists, with the most powerful former lawmakers, such as committee chairs, reaching into the mid-six or seven figures, according to Hedtler-Gaudette. “Having that ‘former member of Congress’ qualifier carries with it a large premium on its own,” he said in an email.

Costello said he was using his knowledge of government and policy to continue working on issues he cares about.

“When I’m allowed to, I want to be able to impress on my colleagues and their staff why I think it’s important and what I think the right policies are, but I can’t do that unless I register,” Costello said. “It’s totally transparent, people know what I’m up to.”

He said lobbying was not “trading on relationships” but was about helping clients understand “the policy-making process and why people think the way they do,” and how to argue for your issue.

Meehan, a former federal prosecutor who resigned amid a sexual harassment scandal last year, is representing Almo Corp., a Philadelphia company that distributes appliances, consumer electronics, furniture and other products, according to his public lobbying disclosure. He is aiding the company as it seeks exceptions to President Donald Trump’s tariffs on goods that it imports from China.

Meehan said he is working with the company as a lawyer, but registered as a lobbyist so he could seek support from sitting lawmakers as Almo appeals to the U.S. trade representative. His registration was effective on Aug. 1. Meehan said he is trying to help Almo preserve U.S. jobs and continue to grow.

“This is a matter for a business that is legitimately trying to preserve its strong position in the economy,” Meehan said. “I don’t think that’s any kind of improper influencing. It’s good representation.”

Almo, in its filings with the trade representative, said it employs more than 650 people nationwide, including more than 250 at its Philadelphia headquarters.

Meehan, who has created a company called Harvey Run Strategies, said he is also working as a contractor with Ridge Global, a consulting and insurance firm led by former Gov. Tom Ridge, and with the law firm headed by his longtime political adviser, Michael Puppio.

Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.), Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R., Pa.), and Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger III (D., Md.) have signed letters of support backing Almo’s requests. The company is one of more than 2,500 seeking exemptions on tariffs on Chinese-made goods.

Meehan resigned in April 2018, months after revelations of a sexual harassment claim brought by an aide and a secret settlement he struck with taxpayer funds. He denied wrongdoing or harassment, though he described the aide as his “soul mate," a phrase he later apologized for. He repaid the $39,000 settlement when he left office.

Dent, who is not a lawyer, abruptly resigned from his seat in May 2018 and soon after joined DLA Piper, a powerful law firm, where he is listed as a senior policy adviser. Once the vocal leader of House GOP moderates, he registered to lobby in the second quarter of this year, according to public disclosures, meaning he did so within weeks of completing the one-year waiting period.

The clients listed on his disclosures all have a nexus with health care: Pennsylvania-based insurer Independence Blue Cross; McKesson Corp., which works in pharmaceutical drug distribution and medical supplies; and St. George’s University, a medical school in Grenada.

Dent was one of the most outspoken House Republicans to oppose the GOP repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

“I provide support and guidance to our firm’s clients. I have registered with three of those clients, one of which is a long-standing, distinguished corporate and philanthropic leader in the Philadelphia region,” Dent wrote in an email.

He is also a CNN commentator, a visiting fellow at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perry World House, and a distinguished adviser at the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Costello, who did not run for reelection, has formed Ryan Costello Strategies, a government-affairs consulting firm. He has been advising advocates pushing for a carbon tax to fight climate change and for tougher gun laws, but does not have any agreements with potential lobbying clients, he said.

Costello said he preferred to be open about his lobbying plans rather than working in a “gray area” of consulting — without registering.

“You look at your skill set, you look a the marketplace, and you try to do what you enjoy. I like the policy-making process,” said Costello, a former county councilman, who added that as a former lawyer in private practice, “I have no interest in going back to billable hours.” He said he hoped to work on transportation, telecommunication and technology issues, all of which he oversaw from his committee perches in Congress.

A footnote on his new firm’s website notes that he does not currently lobby, but that his temporary ban expires Jan. 5.