Three political aides on Sen. Barack Obama’s (D-Ill.) payroll were registered lobbyists for dozens of corporations, including Wal-Mart, British Petroleum and Lockheed Martin, while they received payments from his campaign, according to public documents.
The presence of political operatives with long client lists on Obama’s campaign contrasts with his long-held stand of campaigning against the influence of special interests. Obama has even refused to accept contributions from lobbyists or political action committees (PACs).
Jen Psaki, an Obama campaign spokeswoman, said no member of Obama’s staff has lobbied since taking a full-time role with his campaign.
As it turns out, Obama is not alone. His rivals’ campaigns, as well as the campaigns of Republican White House hopefuls, have hired staffers who reported lobbying activity this year.
While many lobbyists are planning to travel to Iowa and New Hampshire after Christmas to stump for their favored candidates, others have taken more committed roles. At least 40 current and former lobbyists have received payments from top-tier presidential campaigns, according to public records that show K Street’s infiltration in the race and offer hints about who may wield influence in the next administration.
Leaving a job temporarily to join a presidential campaign can enhance careers in the influence industry, said veteran lobbyists.
“I can remember my finest hour was taking two months’ leave in 1964 to help the Johnson campaign,” said Tom Quinn, a lobbyist at Venable LLP who temporarily left the Treasury Department to work for former President Lyndon Johnson’s reelection bid. “It puts you on the checklist as having been part of the team. You get to know the players, the people who get to run the government.
“Often the people you meet on the campaign wind up running the government later on,” said Quinn. “That makes a big difference — it gives you a feel of what they can do.”
Teal Baker, who received her first payment from Obama’s campaign on June 13, represented 18 corporations between Jan. 1 and June 30 of this year while working as a lobbyist for Podesta Group, a K Street powerhouse. Clients paid Podesta Group over $2 million during those six months for Baker and her colleagues to represent them, according to documents filed with the Senate Office of Public Records.
Clients such as Oshkosh Truck and Pinkerton Consulting paid more than $700,000 for Emmett Beliveau and his colleagues at Patton Boggs to represent them during the first half of 2007. Beliveau received a $3,050 payment from Obama’s campaign for advance work on Feb. 21, a campaign finance report shows.
Brandon Hurlbut, Obama’s liaison to veterans, union members and senior citizens in New Hampshire, represented clients such as the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies and the Allegheny County Housing Authority from January to June, according to public records. Six clients paid B&D Consulting $380,000 for Hurlbut to lobby their causes.
Until recently, Hurlbut had a voice mail greeting at B&D Consulting informing callers that he was on “a temporary leave of absence” to work for Obama’s campaign.
A receptionist at Podesta Group said Baker was on leave for the next year. Beliveau is no longer listed in the Patton Boggs directory.
Psaki said that Obama’s lobbying and ethics reform plan would limit the influence of lobbyists on his administration if he were elected president.
“His plan would prevent anyone who is a former lobbyist from working on those issues during his first two years in the White House,” said Psaki. “And no one who is a political appointee could ever lobby the White House.”
One member of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s (D-Ill.) campaign staff was a registered lobbyist during the first half of 2007. Rachel Kelly represented the Great American Insurance Company from January to June. The contract paid less than $10,000.
A Clinton spokesman said Kelly stopped lobbying before joining the campaign.
Jonathan Mantz, Clinton’s finance director, was a registered lobbyist for the Podesta Group in 2005.
Two members of former Sen. John Edwards’s (D-N.C.) staff were registered as lobbyists for the first six months of this year. Adam Jentleson lobbied on behalf of the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank headed by John Podesta, the White House chief of staff during the Clinton administration. Matthew Morrison registered as a lobbyist for the American Federation of Teachers in 2007.
Colleen Murray, a spokeswoman for Edwards, said both aides have ceased lobbying.
Employers often keep in touch with former colleagues who depart to work for presidential candidates. And more often than not, they are eager to see their protégés return.
“I talk to them all time,” said Tony Podesta, who as the head of Podesta Group worked with Baker and Mantz. “Either one of them is welcome to return.
“They’re both terrific,” he said. “I understand why Clinton wanted Jonathan and Obama wanted Teal.”
Podesta downplayed the potential benefit to his firm if Clinton or Obama win the presidency and his former colleagues land influential positions.
“If Teal works in the White House, I’ll know someone on staff,” he said. “But it’s not like this would be a special point of access. I’m pleased and proud [the campaigns] recruited someone from here."
Some lobbyists on Republican campaign payrolls have continued to lobby even while advising candidates.
Barbara Comstock, a partner at Corallo Comstock, has represented companies such as the National Association of Broadcasters and Hearst Corporation while on former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s (R) campaign payroll.
Comstock’s partner, Mark Corallo, said she has been able to both lobby Congress and work for Romney because she is a consultant to his campaign, not an employee.
He said Comstock has worked for Romney for about a year.
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