Thursday, February 15, 2007

Lobbyists Come Calling in New Democratic Congress

This morning's Wall Street Journal has an interesting piece on the formation and access of pro-Democratic interest group lobbies amid the new political era on Capitol Hill. Here's the background:

After Democrats took over Congress earlier this year, they set new limits on lobbyists, aiming to reduce their influence on Capitol Hill.

But the launch of a new firm, Heather Podesta+Partners, shows that, rather than diminishing the clout of Democratic lobbyists, the new Congress has led to the creation of a fresh crop, whose sway could grow even more as the 2008 presidential campaign heats up.

Ms. Podesta's tale illustrates how hard it is to cut the link between lobbyists and politicians. These relationships often forged at the start of careers, when working together on Capitol Hill as low-level staff or while knocking on doors along the campaign trail.

During the first week of the new Congress, freshly sworn-in House leader Nancy Pelosi was in the Capitol's speaker's lobby one evening greeting Ms. Podesta with a kiss on the cheek. Ms. Podesta was there to pose in the official swearing-in photo for California Democratic Rep. Ellen Tauscher, a long-time friend who had advised Ms. Podesta on setting up her firm -- an enterprise she launched based on her confidence in maneuvering the reshaped corridors of power.

After Democrats' victory in November, Ms. Podesta's friends on Capitol Hill suddenly were more powerful -- and her links to them more valuable to clients seeking to influence Congress. That helped Ms. Podesta to build a roster of clients -- such as software provider SAP Americas, which has an interest in new patent legislation, as well as HealthSouth Corp. and health-care provider Cigna Corp., which are concerned by talk of cuts in Medicare payments.

"There will never be a better time to do this," Ms. Podesta said, about launching her firm.
Read the whole thing. Ms. Podesta's the wife of Tony Podesta, the brother of John Podesta, a former chief of staff to President Clinton. She's therefore extremely well-connected and her firm's experienced an auspicious launching. Ms. Podesta's lobbying is perfectly fine, of course. We have a pluralist political system that is open to and thrives on the participation of the multiplicity of special interest lobbies. It's just that stories like this paint a picture of more of the same insider access up there in Washington, which is especially noteworthy with Nancy Pelosi, in the aftermath of the 2006 midterms, proclaiming that she'd lead the new Democratic majority in "the most ethical Congress ever?"

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