Republican Sen. Thad Cochran under fire from Tea Party opponents for fundraising with lobbyist 'kings'

Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Joel Gehrke,2014 Elections,Appropriations Committee,FreedomWorks,Thad Cochran

Republican Senate candidate Chris McDaniel and his Tea Party supporters faulted Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., for fundraising with the Podesta Group, a powerful lobbying shop with ties to President Obama. The president recently hired the firm's co-founder, John Podesta, as a White House adviser.

McDaniel accused Cochran of "turning to a liberal Democrat to help save his campaign," based on Politico's Friday report that the Podesta Group would host the Tuesday event.

"Podesta's Peggy Binzel, Rebecca Edgar, Kimberley Fritts, Jim Dyer, Josh Holly, David Morgenstern, Randall Gerard, David Marin, Steve Northrup, Lauren Maddox, Elizabeth Morra, Missi Tessier, Sean McLaughlin, Stephen Rademaker, Mike Quaranta and Trey Hardin are all listed on the invite," Politico's Byron Tau wrote. "The March 4 fundraiser will cost $2,000 for PACs and $1,000 for individuals."

The named Podesta Group members have all worked for Republicans, so the event looks less like Cochran turning to a Democrat for help and more like an alliance between the old guard senator and "the revolving-door clique of K Street and Capitol Hill operatives [who need] Republicans elected to upper chamber who are likely to play ball," as Tim Carney put it in a 2012 column on the Republican civil war between K Street and the Tea Party.

"Thad Cochran is committed to represent the K Street lobbying class," FreedomWorks national political director Russ Walker said Tuesday.

There's room for bipartisanship in that environment. Rebecca Edgar, one of the Podesta Group members named on the invitation, worked for the National Republican Congressional Committee. She's now chief of staff for Tony Podesta, the firm's co-founder and brother to Obama aide John Podesta.

Other notable hosts include CEO Kimberley Fritts, a former Republican National Committee operative from Mississippi. "It comes as no surprise to all who know her that the Podesta Group was recently dubbed 'a king of K Street' by Politico," her company biography says.

You learn a lot about government by reading Podesta Group employee bios. The fundraiser hosts listed on the Cochran event invitation skew toward appropriations experts, which is especially understandable given Cochran's lengthy time on the Senate Appropriations Committee. Elisabeth Morra, a former Cochran aide, is touted in her bio as "a federal funding all star" for her skill at securing taxpayer dollars for clients.

"With her communications and policy savoir-faire and the relationships to get things done, she leads the Podesta Group’s appropriations practice," Morra's bio reads. "Among her many achievements, she is particularly proud that, over the course of nine years of sound, strategic work, she has helped win $44 million in much needed federal funding to help children and their families in need of medical care in the national capital region."

Lauren Maddox "developed a strategy that secured $25 million in federal funding for a renowned medical facility that helps children and families in need of care in the national capital region." And Trey Hardin served "as chief of staff to a high-ranking member of the House Committee on Appropriations, [which] positioned him to contribute significantly to the expansion of the party's House majority over two election cycles." The congressman was former Rep. Randy 'Duke' Cunningham, R-Calif., who resigned in 2005 and pleaded guilty to accepting bribes from a defense contractor who wanted his company to receive government contracts. (It should be noted that the U.S. attorney found that no aides "knowingly participat[ed]" in Cunningham's bribe-taking.)

One of the other Cochran fundraiser hosts, Randall Gerard, spear-headed an effort by to help the green energy industry profit from government policies.

"While at the firm, Randall has driven many victories on behalf of Podesta Group clients, not the least of which was managing and directing a more than 250-member coalition, representing the agriculture and energy sectors and other segments of the business community," the company website says. "The goal was to garner support of bipartisan House and Senate resolutions that would direct Congress to encourage the US to derive 25 percent of its energy from renewable sources."

Republican primary voters aren't known for their support of green energy mandates and government lobbyists, but Cochran isn't known for his support of the Tea Party.

"The Tea Party is something I don't really know a lot about," Cochran, who was elected senator in 1978 after six years in the House, told Mississippi News Now in February.

Whether that disconnect will end his career remains to be seen. A Human Events poll taken in December showed the two candidates tied at 40 percent, while a November survey from Public Policy Polling showed Cochran with a 44-38 lead, largely due to high name recognition. Conservative Intel, on the other hand, ran a December poll that showed Cochran leading McDaniel 54-31.

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