Kennedy’s Legacy Extended to K Street and Beyond

Posted August 26, 2009 at 11:27am

The legacy of Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) extends beyond Capitol Hill to K Street, where a long list of his former aides have set up lucrative practices — and where the liberal icon cultivated a reputation as a fierce advocate for his policies but often with a pragmatic approach.

As a result, interest groups and lobbying organizations across the political spectrum paid tribute Wednesday to the Senator, a champion of such causes as health care reform and education, who died of cancer on Tuesday night.

“A lot of Republican colleagues are reaching out to folks like myself who worked for him and are letting us know how much respect they had for him,— said Andy Rosenberg, a lobbyist at Ogilvy Government Relations, who was a legislative assistant to Kennedy in the 1990s. “On the one hand, he was often used as a lightning rod for partisan fundraising for conservatives, but there was a recognition among those inside the Beltway that he was a tremendously pragmatic and effective legislator.—

Rosenberg, who represents several health care interests on reform efforts, said that Kennedy’s absence from the Capitol and now his death have made bipartisan reform more difficult.

“The glaring lack of civility and consensus-building on health care reform just highlights the immense hole that exists in Washington without him,— Rosenberg said. “Some will say that his passing will provide inspiration for health care reform. I hope that’s the case, but I’m not sure that it will make up for what’s lost: the skills that he brought to the process. I don’t think we have ever needed him more than we need him now.—

In addition to Rosenberg, former Kennedy aides abound on K Street, including David Nexon, senior executive vice president at AdvaMed, the medical device industry group, who was staff director on the Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee, which Kennedy chaired. Another long-time aide, Tracy Spicer, who was Kennedy’s political director and deputy chief of staff, runs a lobbying practice at Avenue Solutions. Nick Littlefield, a former top aide on the HELP panel, is now a partner with the Boston firm of Foley Hoag.

Former Sen. John Culver (D-Iowa), now a counsel with the firm Arent Fox, got his start after graduating from law school as a legislative assistant to Kennedy. And Tony Podesta, founder of the Podesta Group, worked for Kennedy in a number of roles including as political director and legislative counsel.

Nicholas Allard, who co-chairs the public policy and lobbying practice at one of Washington’s largest firms, Patton Boggs, served in the mid-1990s as legal counsel to Kennedy on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Allard said it’s no coincidence that former Kennedy aides have risen through the ranks on K Street and elsewhere.

“His passion and energy and hard work is something we all took away,— he said. “He surrounded himself with very talented, very competitive and often aggressive individuals.—

Allard said that Kennedy didn’t hire sycophants. “Sometimes to get his attention, you’d have to say, Boss, you’re not going to like to hear this,’— Allard recalled.

“No matter how busy his day, how many hearings, how many events, all his senior staff every day would compete to get briefing memos or draft legislation into his brief case known as his bag,— Allard added. “Every single day, he’d have a circle with a question mark. What’s the vote count?’ or Prove it to me.’—

When it came to lobbying Kennedy or his staff, Allard said, “it was just as tough on the outside as it was on the inside.—

In addition to his long list of former aides, Kennedy worked closely with a wide range of interest groups, unions and business associations.

“To achieve his goals he was a practical idealist, strategically seeking support, pushing undecided senators, battling presidents, securing compromises, and using his infectious enthusiasm and oratorical gift to get to the finish line,— Joan Claybrook, former president of the liberal advocacy group Public Citizen, said in a statement. “Although born to wealth, he spent his entire Senate career of 47 years fighting for the rights and protection of citizens, consumers, workers, children, minorities, immigrants, low-income, disabled, injured and elderly people.—

While Public Citizen and the business lobby U.S. Chamber of Commerce don’t typically agree, the chamber also paid tribute to Kennedy on Wednesday. The group’s president and CEO, Thomas Donohue, said in a statement: “America has lost one of its most generous public servants with the passing of Senator Kennedy. His mastery of the issues complemented an ability to reach across the aisle and consider all sides of an issue. While some will remember Kennedy as a liberal icon,’ he also brought bipartisanship and civility to the political debate.—

Donohue said his group worked with Kennedy on No Child Left Behind, which passed during President George W. Bush’s administration, and on comprehensive immigration reform, which has so far stalled in Congress. “While the business community may have disagreed with Sen. Kennedy more often than not, we admired him for his rock-solid convictions and his passionately held beliefs,— Donohue added.

The dozens of groups and lobbying organizations that also sent out statements included the American Federation of Teachers, the union organization Change to Win, the liberal think tank Center for American Progress, the Business Roundtable, the Motion Picture Association of America, the abortion-rights group NARAL Pro Choice America, seniors lobby AARP, the American Cancer Society, the Retail Industry Leaders Association and the health insurance industry’s lobby group America’s Health Insurance Plans.

“Senator Edward Kennedy was America’s health care champion,— AHIP President and CEO Karen Ignagni said in her group’s statement. “His contribution to health care policy is unmatched.—