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Business Welcomes a White House Ally

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President Barack Obama named William Daley to be his new chief of staff, setting off waves of applause from business groups that like his background on corporate boards and as President Bill Clinton’s Commerce secretary.

President Barack Obama’s new chief of staff, William Daley, is being welcomed by the business lobby, which views the former bank executive as a kindred spirit who at least will give their issues a fair airing in the White House.

Daley has built up a network of support on K Street over the past two decades, both as Commerce secretary under President Bill Clinton as well as in his top positions with some of the nation’s most prominent companies.

While that background concerns liberal activists, business officials said they will have someone in the White House inner circle who can plead their case on issues such as trade, regulation and taxes.

“He’s a great guy,” said Frank Vargo, the vice president for international economic affairs at the National Association of Manufacturers. The group has battled the Obama administration on a number of fronts, including health care and environmental regulations.

Vargo, who worked with Daley on trade issues when they both worked at the Commerce Department, said he “moves easily with CEOs.” He suggested that Daley is someone who will seek common ground between the White House and the business community.

“He’s a solid addition to the president’s circle of advisers,” said Scott Talbott, the senior vice president for government affairs for the Financial Services Roundtable. The trade association represents insurance, financial services and banks, including JPMorgan Chase & Co., Daley’s former employer.

One of the top priorities for Talbott’s group in the upcoming session will be legislation dealing with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Daley is familiar with the federal mortgage entities, having served on Fannie Mae’s board from 1993 to 1996. Daley’s son, William Daley Jr., was also a lobbyist for Fannie Mae.

Daley’s relationship with Washington’s business lobbyists dates back to the early 1990s, when he quarterbacked the Clinton administration’s campaign to garner support for the North American Free Trade Agreement. The pact was supported by businesses but bitterly opposed by a number of Democratic constituencies including labor unions.

As a result of his promotion of free trade and his business ties, organized labor was decidedly cool to Daley’s appointment. Other liberal groups were more outspoken. Justin Ruben, the executive director of MoveOn.Org, called Obama’s decision “troubling” because of Daley’s ties to what he said were “Big Banks and Big Business.”

Over the past two decades, Daley has held positions with companies that have been actively involved in lobbying the federal government.

He was most recently vice chairman of JPMorgan Chase, which spent $5.8 million in the first three quarters of 2010 lobbying federal officials, more than any other bank. Joining other large banks, JPMorgan Chase lobbied lawmakers on the financial reform measures moving through Congress, particularly opposing tough restrictions on derivative trading and the creation of the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection.

From 2001 until 2004, Daley was president of SBC Communications, which was lobbying the Federal Communications Commission to ease regulations on phone companies (SBC has since merged with AT&T Inc.).

Until last week, Daley served on the board of aerospace giant Boeing, which has been in a fierce bidding war to win a $30 billion Pentagon contract to manufacture an aerial refueling tanker. He sat on the boards of drug companies Abbott Laboratories and Merck & Co., which have a huge stake in the administration’s implementation of the health care reform law.

Daley has also worked closely with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, serving as co-chairman of its Commission on the Regulation of U.S. Capital Markets in the 21st Century. The commission produced a report in 2007 that recommended reforming and modernizing the federal government’s regulatory approach to financial markets. While chamber President Tom Donohue led the business community last year in opposing many of Obama’s initiatives, he has praised Daley. Speaking to reporters this week after delivering his annual state of American business speech, Donohue called Daley “a real pro.”

Daley has said he has never been a registered lobbyist. But during the 2008 presidential campaign, Republican contender Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) ran an attack ad accusing him of being a lobbyist. Daley was economic adviser to the Obama campaign at the time.

But open government advocates said that even though he hasn’t met the technical definition of a lobbyist, that doesn’t mean he hasn’t had an influence on policymaking.

Paul Blumenthal, a senior writer for the Sunlight Foundation, said Daley was instrumental in hiring Peter Scher to head JPMorgan Chase’s federal relations office in 2008. He also said that as president of SBC, Daley had a reputation for being the company’s chief lobbyist.

“He’s connected to everyone across K Street,” Blumenthal said.

Others in Daley’s extended family are registered lobbyists. His son, William, is registered in Illinois to lobby for financial services company Morgan Stanley. A second cousin, Patricia Daley, is a registered lobbyist in Washington, D.C. Her firm, Daley Policy Group, represents municipalities and other entities in the Midwest, including the city of DeKalb and Northern Illinois University.

While liberals fear that Daley will be too much of an advocate for business, Jack Quinn, a former Clinton administration official, said Daley is a loyal Democrat who will follow Obama’s lead.

“I bristle when I hear people say that he will be there representing the point of view of Tom Donohue,” said Quinn, who is the chairman of lobbying communications firm Quinn Gillespie & Associates. “I don’t think that is correct. He is a reliable but moderate and passionate Democrat.”

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