Monday, January 19, 2009

The Uber Lobbyists of Washington

The Uber Lobbyists of Washington


With Obama bemoaning the prevalence of lobbyists in Washington, weekly family dinners at the Podesta households occasionally have grown awkward. Lobbying power couple Tony and Heather Podesta take turns hosting meals with Tony's brother, Obama transition boss John Podesta, and his wife, Mary, a mutual funds association lawyer. Now, sometimes, "we'll say something, and John won't respond. There'll be silence," says Heather, who changes the subject to wine or contemporary art. "Frankly, we're counting the days until the end of the transition so things can go back to normal."

Still, John's temporary gig hasn't exactly been bad for business. Tony and Heather have separate firms: He built his, The Podesta Group, into one of Washington's 10 largest lobbying outfits over the last two decades, while she started her fast-growing firm, Heather Podesta+Partners, two years ago. Both say they're signing clients at an unparalleled clip.

They've been there before: John was Bill Clinton's chief of staff, and Tony, a former Ted Kennedy aide, is a longtime Washington player who strategizes and raises money tirelessly for Democrats. In October he rushed back from his 65th birthday party in So Paulo to Johnstown, Pa., to rescue the campaign of John Murtha, chairman of the House's chief military appropriations committee.

Heather, 26 years Tony's junior, built her reputation working for Democratic members of Congress before meeting her husband. Their political savvy, friendships, frequent dinner parties, and the millions of dollars they raise for Democrats, make the pair, who married in 2003, among the Capitol's most popular players. Among clients of Tony's firm: BP (BP), Lockheed Martin (LMT), General Dynamics (GD), and Hertz (HTZ). Heather's clients include Boeing (BA), Cigna (CI), and HSBC (HBC).


These days, the savviest lobbying firms are hedging their bets. Predominantly Republican firms are scrambling to add Democrats, while others are keeping influencers from both parties who are respected by the opposition.

Examples of such marriages of partisan convenience are as common as tassled loafers on K Street. Former Louisiana Democrat John Breaux and Mississippi Republican Trent Lott, with 70 years in Congress between them, have launched their own firm, the Breaux Lott Leadership Group, which represents Shell Oil (RDS.A), Chevron (CVX), and the pharmaceutical industry. Breaux was a centrist in a narrowly divided Senate who often could be counted on to help add a few critical votes from either side.

Kenneth M. Duberstein is held in similarly high regard across party lines; his past as Ronald Reagan's chief of staff doesn't matter to many Democrats. It helps, of course, that he has partnered with Michael S. Berman, a former Clinton White House adviser and Democratic conventions organizer. Duberstein Group clients include the health insurance industry, Comcast (CMCSA), UAL (UAUA), Novartis (NVS), Sara Lee (SLE), and BP (BP).

  • The Bailout: House Jitters?
  • MLB Network signs Vasgersian
  • Banks: Beyond the Citi Carnage
  • Burns to take ‘Baseball’ to extra innings
  • Automakers Rev Up for a Bailout, Too
  • MLB Network partners with Verizon
  • No comments: