John McCain

From Senator to Lobbyist to Senator: Conflicts for Jon Kyl?

Gov. Doug Ducey appointed former Arizona Senator Jon Kyl to fill the late John McCain's seat. Kyl has worked as a lobbyist representing Walmart, Raytheon and other companies.
Gov. Doug Ducey appointed former Arizona Senator Jon Kyl to fill the late John McCain's seat. Kyl has worked as a lobbyist representing Walmart, Raytheon and other companies. Gage Skidmore/flickr
Senator Jon Kyl said his recent career as a lobbyist won’t affect his work when he returns to Capitol Hill to fill the seat vacated by the late John McCain.

Shortly after Governor Doug Ducey announced his appointment, Kyl dismissed a reporter’s question of potential conflicts of interest with a single word: “No.”

Kyl represented Arizona for 26 years in the Senate, retiring in 2013 as the Senate minority whip. He joined the lobbying firm Covington and Burlington in 2013.

Federal lawmakers often wind up cashing in with lobbying firms after they retire from Congress, a phenomenon that political watchers call the “revolving door.” Kyl’s appointment represents a rare case in which a senator retires to K Street before returning to Congress.

Federal disclosure reports list 76-year-old Kyl as a lobbyist for a range of interests, including pharmaceutical companies, retailers, nonprofits, and defense contractors. Some of these clients will likely have business before Congress between now and 2020, when Kyl is expected to step down from his seat.

One of Kyl’s biggest clients was the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the primary trade group for drug companies. The group has paid Kyl’s firm at least $2.75 million since he started lobbying in 2015, according to federal disclosure reports.

In 2016, he lobbied for the biotech company Celgene in opposition to a bill seeking to lower drug costs by allowing pharmaceutical companies to bring civil action against other companies refusing to sell them samples of generic drugs. Celgene is one of the main targets of the proposal, known as the Creating and Restoring Equal Access to Equivalent Samples Act. The company has refused to sell samples of the cancer drug Revlimid.

Qualcomm is another large client of Covington and Burlington. Since Qualcomm was added to Kyl's client list in 2017, the telecommunications company has paid the firm more than $4 million to work on issues related to aviation, cellphone regulations, and drones.

Kyl has also lobbied in favor of extending Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals on behalf of the American Council on Education, Georgetown University, and former Washington Post publisher Donald E. Graham. Federal lawmakers have repeatedly tried and failed to reach an immigration compromise that would extend the program, which creates a path to citizenship for some children of undocumented immigrants.

Kyl’s most high-profile work since his first retirement from the Senate may not be directly related to his lobbying. The White House tapped him to guide Brett Kavanaugh through his Supreme Court confirmation hearings, which are currently underway.

But before Kavanaugh’s nomination, Kyl lobbied on behalf of a conservative nonprofit called Judicial Crisis Network that spent millions in a campaign to put Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch on the bench.

Gordon Sundland, the U.S. Ambassador to the European Union, paid Kyl and his firm $60,000 to help prepare him for his confirmation hearings.

Here's a list of clients that Kyl worked for:

American Council on Education
American Automotive Policy Council
Anheuser-Busch Companies, Inc.
Celgene Corporation
Coalition for American Retirement LLC
Georgetown University
Gordon Sondland
H&R Block, Inc.
JW Aluminum
Judicial Crisis Network
Merck & Co, Inc.
Mr. Donald E. Graham
Northrop Grumman
Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, Inc.
Qualcomm, Inc.
SAP America, Inc.
Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.
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Steven Hsieh was a staff writer for Phoenix New Times from August 2018 to April 2020.
Contact: Steven Hsieh