Opinion: Columnists

Obama hires revolving-door lobbyist and Clinton fixer John Podesta

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Politics,Timothy P. Carney,Columnists,Barack Obama,Center for American Progress,Hillary Clinton,Bill Clinton,Lobbying

John Podesta is a revolving-door corporate lobbyist. He's also a former Bill Clinton fixer and opposition research consultant for the Democrats. So it’s fitting President Obama has officially brought Podesta onto the White House staff.

Read the major newspaper accounts of Podesta's hire, and you'll learn he was Bill Clinton's last White House chief of staff. Omitted from the news stories on Podesta's hire in the New York Times, Washington Post, the Associated Press, and Reuters: Podesta founded a lobbying firm his brother still runs; he was a corporate lobbyist more recently than he was a White House chief of staff; and he was a registered lobbyist as recently as 2005.

This resume is noteworthy because Candidate Obama — in part to distinguish himself from Beltway insider Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries — promised that lobbyists “won’t work in my White House.” Obama has maintained that he has “excluded lobbyists from policymaking jobs.” And much of the major media still somehow believes him.

Here’s the brief unauthorized K Street biography of Obama’s closest confidant, John Podesta:

John and his brother Tony were Democratic Senate staffers in the 1980s. In 1988, they both cashed out and founded a lobbying and strategy firm. This was back before the K Street revolving door spun as freely as it does today, making John Podesta a bit of an entrepreneur in the access-for-profit game.

Podesta Associates’ early corporate clients, according to contemporaneous news accounts, included drug giant Merck and computer manufacturer Digital Equipment Corporation (acquired by Compaq, which merged with Hewlett-Packard). Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Podesta’s work with tech firms in the early 1990s included organizing the industry to oppose expanding the FBI’s wiretap powers.

The brothers and their firm worked as Democratic dirt-diggers, too, winning contracts to do opposition research on Republicans.

When Clinton entered the White House, John Podesta followed him, joining as a staff secretary. Tony kept the lobbying firm going.

Among his many duties for impeached President Clinton, John Podesta was known as the “Secretary of [Feces]” for running damage control on Clinton misbehavior from Whitewater to Monica Lewinsky.

When Podesta was called before the grand jury to discuss Clinton’s alleged perjury and abuse of power in the Lewinsky case, his lawyer was one Peter Kadzik. A later Kadzik client, fugitive financier Marc Rich, used Podesta as his entrée into the Clinton White House, later winning Rich a pardon in the parting scandal of Clinton’s tawdry eight years. (Podesta, to his credit, never supported the pardon.)

“Secretary” Podesta exited the White House through the revolving door, going back to work, if only part-time, for the lobbying firm he co-founded. (At this point, it was called PodestaMattoon.)

John Podesta’s lobbying clients in 2002 included the Nevada Resort Association and other Nevada business interests lobbying against storing spent nuclear material in Yucca Mountain. Podesta also shows up on a lobbying form for eBay, suggesting he lobbied for the company.

In 2003, John Podesta joined the think tank world, as the first president of the Center for American Progress. In that role, Podesta registered as a lobbyist for the CAP Action Fund, where lobbying disclosure forms show him working on biofuel issues. CAP supported creating and then expanding the costly ethanol mandate.

In 2008 and early 2009, Podesta ran Obama’s transition team.

At times under Podesta, CAP’s lobbying dovetailed nicely with the White House agenda, the interests of CAP’s corporate donors, and the lobbying of the Podesta Group, still under Tony’s control.

For instance, Walmart gave large donations (at least $500,000) to CAP. In 2009, CAP organized Walmart and the Service Employees’ International Union in support of Obamacare’s employer mandate. Walmart, of course, can afford the costs of insuring full-time employees more so than smaller competitors can (and is dexterous at moving employees to part-time).

At the same time the Podesta Group, including Tony Podesta, was lobbying on Walmart’s behalf on Obamacare — specifically on “employer responsibility,” according to a Fall 2009 Podesta Group lobbying filing.

In 2011, Podesta gave up the helm at CAP, and this week, the White House welcomed Podesta as a counselor to the president, working on green energy among other issues.

There’s nothing extraordinary or even corrupt in Podesta’s revolving-door tour. Consultant and lobbyist are natural jobs for a former political appointee, and Podesta’s lobbying seems to align with his liberal views.

But if you thought the difference was huge between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, the Podesta hire ought to put that idea to rest.

Obama won election in part by promising to clean up government. He promised to stop the revolving door and not to hire lobbyists. He’s hired lobbyists again and again – more than 60 by my count. Obama's latest lobbyist is Bill and Hillary's old fixer.

It is just another sign that Change We Can Believe In has been transmogrified into Business As Usual.

Timothy P. Carney, The Washington Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at His column appears Sunday and Wednesday on
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