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Opinion: Columnists

Tony Podesta hires Mary Landrieu's husband to sell lobbying townhouse

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Politics,Timothy P. Carney,Columnists,Senate,Homeland Security,BP,Louisiana,Lobbying,Ethics,Mary Landrieu

Super-lobbyist Tony Podesta is unloading his $1.8 million Capitol Hill townhouse, and he’s paying Sen. Mary Landrieu’s husband to sell it for him.

Frank Snellings is married to Landrieu, the Louisiana Democrat and member of the Appropriations Committee. When not raising their children or helping Landrieu’s reelection campaign, Snellings is a realtor at Coldwell Banker. Podesta, one of the most connected Democratic lobbyists in town, has retained Snellings as his listing agent for the famed “Podesta Townhouse.”

Tony Podesta bought 131 C St SE in 2009 for $1.57 million, with Snellings as his agent. It’s not Podesta’s home – he lives in Kalorama. Podesta instead used the 3,600-square foot, 19th-century townhouse to host fundraisers and other receptions.

This summer, Podesta put the house on the market for $1.89 million, and the real estate listing implores house-shoppers to: “Live, Entertain & Shape Issues of the Day in this Superbly Located 2 Level Townhouse.”

When the deal closes – and the house is currently under contract – Podesta will cut a big check to Snellings. The industry standard is a 3 percent fee for the listing agent. That would mean K Street lobbyist Tony Podesta would cut a check of around $50,000 to Snellings, thus enriching Sen. Landrieu.

The Podesta Group, cofounded by Tony and his brother John (who was President Obama’s transition director in 2008-2009), brings in more than $2 million a month in lobbying fees.

The firm’s clients have business before Landrieu. Lockheed Martin is currently the Podesta Group’s biggest client, paying $200,000 in the second quarter for lobbying on appropriations and budget matters, according to a lobbying filing. Landrieu is chairwoman of the Homeland Security Appropriations subcommittee, and Lockheed is the number four contractor for the Department of Homeland Security, pulling in $446 million, according to a late-2012 report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Oil giant BP is another Podesta Group client, paying the firm more than $2 million in lobbying fees since late 2006.

Landrieu became BP’s champion earlier this year. Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency last November barred BP from any new federal drilling leases or federal contracts citing a “lack of business integrity.”

Landrieu in March fired back “I’m furious and strongly opposed to the EPA's authority for suspension and disbarment,” Landrieu said, according to the Monroe News Star. “I’m angry that this agency would put a business in a situation of what amounts to double jeopardy.”

The relationship between Snellings and Podesta goes beyond real estate. In 2009, when he bought the townhouse for the lobbyist, Snellings attended Podesta’s 65th birthday party.

There’s no evidence of any quid pro quo with Podesta and the Snellings-Landrieu family. Landrieu’s office says the Podesta Group hasn’t lobbied her on behalf of Lockheed or BP.

Also Podesta isn’t simply giving money to Snellings – Snellings is presumably working for it, by developing a listing, finding a buyer, and negotiating for a higher price for Podesta.

But even though this wasn’t free money, the arrangement reeks of influence peddling. Tony Podesta could get any realtor he wanted. Why did he hire Frank Snellings in 2009? Did it have anything to do with Snellings’ wife being a top appropriator?

Snellings’ real estate web page plays up his intimate connection to power. On his “about me” page, he writes “our family moved to DC in 1997 upon my wife Mary Landrieu's election to the U.S. Senate.” Later, the page mentions “Mary's re-election in 2002, in which I was active.”

The Senate Ethics Committee explains on its website that “No law, regulation, or Senate rule specifically prohibits the spouse of a Senate Member or employee from engaging in any outside employment because it could create a conflict of interest with the official’s Senate duties.”

Indeed, many Senate spouses have gone much further than work with lobbyists – they have been lobbyists. Senators Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.), Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), and Kent Conrad (D-S.D.), all were married to federal lobbyists.

In real estate, they say, the three main factors are location, location, and location. But as Snellings’ Podesta deal shows, it also helps to have connections.

Timothy P. Carney, the Washington Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at tcarney@washingtonexaminer.com. His column appears Sunday and Wednesday on washingtonexaminer.com.

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