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Dodd’s K Street Pushback?

Lobbyists Say 2010 Election Is to Blame

Bill Clark/Roll Call
Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Chairman Chris Dodd is up for re-election in 2010, and many lobbyists think that contest is pushing him toward a pro-consumer, anti-industry tilt.

As Sen. Chris Dodd gears up for a grueling re-election fight, he has tried to distance himself from K Street by taking an increasingly pro-consumer, anti-industry tack, according to many lobbyists who work closely with the Connecticut Democrat.

The Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs chairman has been vulnerable to critics who charge that he was too close to financial services lobbyists and executives, many of whom helped fund his long-shot presidential ambitions.

He has also come under fire for taking a plum mortgage from Countrywide Financial, moving his family to Iowa during the primary and being out of touch with his Nutmeg State constituents.

Dodd, a key player on financial services and health care reform efforts this year, has K Streeters worried that his re-election contest will interfere with the policies that he pushes from his powerful perches.

“He always had a pro-consumer bent, but you felt like you got a fair hearing with him privately,” said one financial industry lobbyist, who would only speak about the Senator on the condition of anonymity. “This year, you get the sense that there’s not even that opportunity.”

But a Dodd spokeswoman said the Senator has not changed his positions.

“Dodd’s background is as a consumer advocate,” said Kirstin Brost, spokeswoman for the Banking Committee.

In addition to heading the Banking panel, Dodd is shepherding the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee’s health care reform bill while Chairman Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) receives treatment for cancer.

Lobbyists say the HELP panel’s bill is more liberal than one the Senate Finance Committee is putting together.

“He is taking positions to prove that he’s not bought and paid for, almost to prove to voters in Connecticut that he has not lost his way,” said another financial industry lobbyist, who noted that Dodd also recently came out in favor of gay marriage.

“If he’d won his election and he was looking at these issues with a full six-year term in front of him, he’d be taking different positions,” the financial industry lobbyist said. “It’s a scary thing for lobbyists and for the industry in general.”

Of course, not everyone on K Street sees any changes in Dodd’s rapport with the industry.

Lobbyist Richard Tarplin, who runs his own health care lobby shop, spent eight years working for Dodd.

“People on K Street view him as someone who’s always willing to listen,” Tarplin said. “He doesn’t always agree with what you say. He makes his own judgment. But people appreciate that he will look you in the eye and hear what you have to say.”

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