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Max Baucus Alumni Network in Demand as Tax Reform Nears

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
Sen. Max Baucus (left) will play a leading role in the handful of matters that have potential to move this year.

When Sen. Max Baucus warned recently that lawmakers will “slay some sacred cows” to accomplish tax reform, K Street was listening.

Seeing a major rewrite of the nation’s tax laws on the horizon, lobbyists have been taking meetings with the Montana Democrat’s aides, who in turn have quietly been reaching out to stakeholders. It’s all part of what one downtowner referred to as the “pre-process.” And it’s a series of interactions that, no matter the outcome of the November elections, puts lobbyists with ties to the Senate Finance chairman in high demand.

The six-term Senator’s network of aides-turned-lobbyists isn’t limited to tax issues. Baucus is taking a leading role in the handful of matters that have potential to move this year, such as a bill to normalize trade relations with Russia and an extension of highway and transit spending. His committee also has jurisdiction over major aspects of the health care overhaul.

“They have access and expertise,” Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, said of Baucus’ downtown allies. “They understand how the whole beast works, but they also know the kind of approach that someone like Baucus might take. So that’s gold.”

Jon Selib, Baucus’ chief of staff, said his boss’s ties to K Street take a back seat to his home state.

“The only inner circle that Max Baucus has is Montanans,” Selib said.

Baucus’ inner circle on K Street, according to numerous sources, includes Jeffrey Forbes, a former Finance panel staff director who is a lobbyist at Cauthen Forbes & Williams, and Capitol Counsel partner Shannon Finley, who was a Baucus political adviser. Nicholas Giordano of Washington Council Ernst & Young is another tax lobbyist who is close to his former boss, lobbyists said. And ditto for former trade advisers Brian Pomper of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld and Timothy Punke, who is a partner with Monument Policy Group.

In addition, Baucus has dozens of other ex-aides who lobby, including Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti’s David Castagnetti, K&L Gates partner Michael Evans, Dawn Levy O’Donnell of D Squared Tax Strategies, Elmendorf Ryan lobbyist Pat Bousliman and Jay Driscoll of Cauthen Forbes.

Selib and numerous K Streeters working on tax reform say they expect Baucus’ team on the Hill to keep an open door when it comes to the debate.

It’s an issue that in many instances will pit business interests against one another, with industries protecting favored tax deductions whose loss could result in a life-threatening blow to their bottom line.

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