K Street Files: Podesta Brothers at Odds Over BP

Posted June 4, 2010 at 3:25pm

Brothers John Podesta and Tony Podesta have long been a political power duo in Democratic circles. But they may have to part company on the BP oil spill crisis in the Gulf of Mexico.

Last week, John Podesta, who is president of the liberal think tank Center for American Progress, unveiled a proposal to reduce U.S. dependence on oil in the wake of the BP spill. The plan included requiring BP to put $5 billion into an escrow fund to ensure prompt payments for cleanup and compensation and eliminating taxpayer subsidies for big oil companies.

However, BP, like others in the oil industry, has relied on a formidable lobbying team in Washington, D.C., to fight proposals that might hurt its bottom line.

Among those K Street firms on the BP roster is the Podesta Group, led by none other than Tony Podesta. According to lobbying disclosure forms filed with Congress, BP paid the Podesta Group $60,000 in the first quarter of this year to lobby on a variety of issues, including monitoring oil-lease legislation and hearings. On the disclosure forms, Tony Podesta is listed first among the firm’s lobbyists working on the account.

Being on different sides of a sticky issue doesn’t seem to bother the brothers.

“We don’t talk business, are often on opposite sides of an issue, and still maintain peace at the dinner table,” said John Podesta, according to a statement e-mailed from a spokeswoman for the Center for American Progress.

A Helping Hand

The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is likely to result in a gusher of lucrative lobbying opportunities for K Street as Congress and the administration field a host of grievances stemming from the crisis. But one firm, the CLA Group, is hoping to change the predatory image of some in the profession by offering pro bono lobbying services to groups in the Gulf region, such as fishermen and charter boat businesses, that can’t afford the hefty fees.

“Everybody hears bad news about lobbyists. I’m trying to break that mold,” said Laurence Socci president of CLA, which he founded in 1998.

Socci said he put the word out about the pro bono work on various social media sites including Facebook and Twitter to reach groups in the Gulf region. Socci said his firm, which includes five full-time and two part-time staffers, would provide a variety of services, including visits to Members and public relations help. CLA doesn’t have any paid clients in the Gulf region yet, Socci said.

He said his firm’s biggest clients include the American Congress on Surveying and Mapping and the National Italian Business Association.

Broadband Fight Boosts Jobs

In a sign that broadband issues are heating up on Capitol Hill, the Internet advocacy group Public Knowledge has created a new position of director of government affairs.

To fill the slot, the group tapped Ernesto Falcon, a legislative assistant for retiring Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.). Falcon worked on legislative issues related to the Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees broadband issues.

Public Knowledge spokesman Art Brodsky said that while the advocacy group had dispatched staffers to the Hill in the past, this will be the first time it will have a full-time lobbyist working on digital issues such as net neutrality and broadband expansion. He said the group needed a presence in Congress since it was going up against powerful communications companies like AT&T that spend millions of dollars on lobbying.

“Lord knows we need all the help we can get,” Brodsky said.

White-Coat Syndrome?

Lawmakers returning from their Memorial Day recess got an earful from disgruntled doctors, who are frustrated that Congress has failed to address a 21 percent cut in Medicare physician payments that went into effect June 1.

The American Medical Association, the largest doctors group, has been running a multimillion-dollar media campaign aimed at prodding the Senate to approve a measure delaying the cut. Before it left for the break, the House passed a bill that would forestall the payment reduction for 19 months.

The ad campaign includes television, radio and print and is running in 17 states. AMA President J. James Rohack said it has not been determined how long the ad campaign will run. But he warned if Congress does not address the situation, more doctors could decide not to see Medicare patients.

K Street Moves

• Sen. John Barrasso’s (R-Wyo.) chief of staff, Shawn Whitman, is exiting for Kountoupes Consulting. Whitman has served in the Senate for nearly 16 years. Whitman will be replaced by Dan Kunsman. A Wyoming native, Kunsman joins Barrasso’s office after spending nine years as a partner in the Wyoming-based public relations firm Brimmer Kunsman Communications.

• Matthew Berger, a former adviser to Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), has been named vice president of tax for the National Multi Housing Council. Berger will be responsible for federal tax legislation as part of the Joint Legislative Program of NMHC and the National Apartment Association. He was most recently economist and press secretary for the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee. On the committee, he was Snowe’s principal adviser on taxes and the federal budget. Before that, he was national tax manager for Deloitte Tax.

• The International Franchise Association has brought on Stephen Caldeira, former senior executive for Dunkin’ Brands Inc., as its new president and CEO. The group has been looking to fill the top slot vacated in March by its former president and CEO, Matthew Shay, who left the IFA to run the National Retail Federation.

Caldeira, who worked as an aide to former Sen. Al D’Amato (R-N.Y.), said he is focused on bringing the message that the franchise industry is an economic force. “It’s a time where we and the small-business community and the business community at large needs to stand up and really shout loud how we create jobs and build jobs and grow the economy, not just domestically, but internationally,” Caldeira said.

He has also worked at PepsiCo Inc., Burson-Marsteller and the National Restaurant Association.

Anna Palmer contributed to this report.

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