GOP nominee Mitt Romney has pledged to create 12 million jobs if elected president. Republican lobbyists have their eyes on just a handful of positions in the executive branch should he prevail.
Lobbyists expect the revolving door from K Street to the White House to once again spin freely if Romney is elected. Several members of the GOP influence set already appear poised to take plum spots come January if the Romneys move into 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
“Folks that have been out in the wilderness will be in the catbird seat in a Romney administration,” said Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks lobbying and money in elections.
The Romney presidential campaign declined to comment on any hiring restrictions the former Massachusetts governor might impose on lobbyists, but K Street sources and government watchdogs agree a Romney administration — like his campaign and transition teams — would not be hostile to corporate lobbyists.
For example, Joel Kaplan, who is Facebook’s vice president for U.S. public policy, is leading the vice presidential transition, or “readiness” effort, for Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). And Republican K Streeters say campaign officials have privately given assurances that their résumés will be welcome.
That’s in contrast to policies President Barack Obama put in place in an executive order signed on the first day of his administration. Obama prohibited most federal registered lobbyists from joining his government, and he imposed new post-employment restrictions on his aides heading to influence jobs.
Even many K Street Democrats and progressive activists have criticized Obama’s ban for keeping good job candidates from serving in agencies while being a mostly symbolic gesture to limit the influence of corporate interests on officials. Obama also has granted waivers to some registered lobbyists, and he has brought on unregistered government relations professionals.
As a result, some lobbyists have branded Obama a hypocrite and complained that the president’s ban encouraged advocates to deregister, helping push lobbying into the shadows outside the realm of public disclosures.
“I don’t think the rule really does the job of keeping out the people who have the connections with the special interests,” said Joan Claybrook, former president of the liberal group Public Citizen. “As to the lobbyists for public interest organizations, those are the people who have had their finger in the dike and kept corporate America from decimating health, environmental and consumer regulatory programs — which Obama supports.”
She said Obama lost out on qualified appointees by keeping such individuals out of his administration.
Republican lobbyists say their candidate would not follow that route. “I presume a Romney administration would attract the best and the brightest whether they’re lobbyists or not,” said Brad Card, a GOP lobbyist who supports the Romney/Ryan ticket.
Romney, a one-time businessman, champions the private sector from the campaign trail. And corporate lobbyists — whose clients include oil, tobacco, health care, transportation and technology firms — function as the private sector’s representatives in Washington, D.C.
“I don’t know why any administration would handcuff themselves by blacklisting any group of people,” said Republican lobbyist Sam Geduldig, a partner with Clark Lytle Geduldig & Cranford. “Republicans have issues with unions, trial attorneys, mainstream media, Hollywood and ivy league professors. But to ban any candidate from consideration for being associated with a specific industry would be closed-minded.”
K Street is well-stocked with Romney supporters who could easily land jobs with the Republican’s team.
Drew Maloney, who until this summer was a registered lobbyist at Ogilvy Government Relations, is now working full-time with the Romney transition team and, numerous sources said, serving as a point person to identify candidates for legislative affairs units from the White House to Cabinet departments and agencies. He could easily fill the slot of the White House’s chief liaison with Congress or take another high-level job in a Romney White House.
Dutko Grayling lobbyist Ron Kaufman is on unpaid leave from his firm to work on the Romney/Ryan effort and would likely be in line for a senior administration job.
Patton Boggs partner and Romney campaign adviser Ben Ginsberg would be a contender for the White House counsel slot, downtown sources speculated.
Jack Gerard, who as head of the American Petroleum Institute for the past four years served as the oil industry’s top lobbyist, is deeply plugged in with the Romney operation. But even some Republican lobbyists say picking Gerard to lead the Energy Department or giving him another position might create unfavorable appearances. He may still hold sway with GOP administration insiders from the outside.
Former Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), of counsel at Hogan Lovells, is not currently a registered lobbyist but said in an email he intends to register shortly. While Coleman noted that he is focused on getting Romney elected, numerous downtown sources said he, too, would be on a short list for a senior Romney role.
Ex-Sen. Jim Talent (R-Mo.), co-chairman of Mercury Clark & Weinstock and who is no longer a registered lobbyist, could be a Romney administration pick to run the Defense or Homeland Security departments, while former Rep. Vin Weber (R-Minn.) might also end up ticketed for a government position.
Obama also has banned lobbyists from serving on government advisory boards, but Romney’s campaign has included lobbyists on its advisory panels. Its agriculture advisers, for example, include Randy Russell, president of the Russell Group, whose clients include Cargill, Monsanto and Kraft Foods.
All of the prospective appointees except Coleman either declined comment or did not respond to questions. Some leading contenders may ultimately eschew Romney overtures because the positions would come with a dramatic pay cut, longer hours and a more grueling pace.
Whether a President Romney would undo Obama’s ban completely, grant more waivers or something in between remains an open question. Ken Gross, a lobbying and government ethics expert at Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom, said, if elected, it would “take him two seconds to rescind the executive order” and Romney could do it as part of a package of other actions.
That’s what keeps Craig Holman, a lobbyist with Public Citizen, up at night. He disagrees with his former boss Claybrook on the Obama ban and said he has been trying “desperately,” but unsuccessfully, to get the executive order codified into law.
Some lobbyists have speculated that if Obama wins a second term, he would allow more lobbyists to serve in an administration freed of the political burdens of re-election. A senior White House official told Roll Call in an email that Obama “will continue the policy in his second term.”
“This really is the most important ethics achievement that Obama has pulled off,” Holman said. “I would hate to see us lose it, and I know we will in a Romney administration. He and K Street are connected at the hip.”