September 19, 2011

Former Key Senate Aide to Help Foundations Navigate Capitol Hill

M. Jeff Hamond was a top aide to Sen. Charles Schumer, Democrat of New York, for more than six years. Not once, he says, did any of New York's many major foundations drop by to talk to him about their policy work.

Mr. Hamond—who left Mr. Schumer's office this summer and started a new job as a consultant last week—says that experience taught him that grant makers need to learn more about how Capitol Hill works.

"You have all these very, very large foundations that are making massive, massive investments in whatever their policy area of interest is—whether it's economic mobility or opportunity, whether it's climate change or the environment, whether it's education or whether it's health care," he says.

"Part of the mission of these organizations is to inform or affect public policy in some way." Yet, he says, "They are completely disengaged from the key staffers and the key members that they ought to know."

Mr. Hamond was Senator Schumer's economic-policy director and senior staff member on the Senate Finance Committee. He worked, for example, on legislation to boost mileage tax reimbursements for charity volunteers and to allow people to make tax-free charitable donations from the individual retirement accounts.

He is now offering to help foundations navigate Capitol Hill in his new job at Van Scoyoc Associates, a Washington lobbying and government-relations firm.

He says he got the idea after noticing that a handful of grant makers now have offices or staff members in Washington—for example, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation recently hired a new director of policy research based here.

He figured some foundations might like to improve their relations with Congress without hiring a full-time member. "There are really not that many people in D.C. that are representing folks in the sector," he says.

Mr. Hamond says when he was a Congressional staff member, foundations used to contact him only about proposals affecting the philanthropic world as a whole—for example, when the Senate Finance Committee was considering a package of measures in 2005 and 2006 to curb abusive practices of charities and foundations.

He speculates that foundations are wary of going beyond that for two reasons: They worry about violating laws that prevent them from lobbying except on matters of "self defense." And they mistakenly believe they should knock on doors only if they want to ask for something specific.

Actually, he says, Congressional staff members welcome hearing from people who are simply offering their expertise. "We're always putting together floor statements, we're always trying to come up with ideas for our boss, we're always coming up with statements for a hearing," he says.

"And people who can help make our jobs easier by giving us interesting facts and examples and snippets of information we can use in different ways—that's really, really great stuff."