The Uber Lobbyists of Washington

Here are the lobbyists who are likely to wield a big influence in the New Washington
Beltway Black Belts: (from left) Boggs, Daschle, Berman, Tony Podesta, Heather Podesta, Mercado, Lott, Breaux Photo IllustratIon by Sean McCabe; (Boggs) Richard A. Bloom/Corbis; (Daschle) Kyle Samperton/Washington Life; (Berman) Matthew Staver/Bloomberg; (Tony Podesta) Roll call; (Heather Podesta) Richard A. Bloom/Corbis; (Mercado, Lott, Breaux) Roll Call


With Obama bemoaning the prevalence of lobbyists in Washington, weekly family dinners at the Podesta households occasionally have grown awkward. Lobbying power couple Tony and Heather Podesta take turns hosting meals with Tony's brother, Obama transition boss John Podesta, and his wife, Mary, a mutual funds association lawyer. Now, sometimes, "we'll say something, and John won't respond. There'll be silence," says Heather, who changes the subject to wine or contemporary art. "Frankly, we're counting the days until the end of the transition so things can go back to normal."

Still, John's temporary gig hasn't exactly been bad for business. Tony and Heather have separate firms: He built his, The Podesta Group, into one of Washington's 10 largest lobbying outfits over the last two decades, while she started her fast-growing firm, Heather Podesta+Partners, two years ago. Both say they're signing clients at an unparalleled clip.

They've been there before: John was Bill Clinton's chief of staff, and Tony, a former Ted Kennedy aide, is a longtime Washington player who strategizes and raises money tirelessly for Democrats. In October he rushed back from his 65th birthday party in São Paulo to Johnstown, Pa., to rescue the campaign of John Murtha, chairman of the House's chief military appropriations committee.

Heather, 26 years Tony's junior, built her reputation working for Democratic members of Congress before meeting her husband. Their political savvy, friendships, frequent dinner parties, and the millions of dollars they raise for Democrats, make the pair, who married in 2003, among the Capitol's most popular players. Among clients of Tony's firm: BP (BP), Lockheed Martin (LMT), General Dynamics (GD), and Hertz (HTZ). Heather's clients include Boeing (BA), Cigna (CI), and HSBC (HBC).


These days, the savviest lobbying firms are hedging their bets. Predominantly Republican firms are scrambling to add Democrats, while others are keeping influencers from both parties who are respected by the opposition.

Examples of such marriages of partisan convenience are as common as tassled loafers on K Street. Former Louisiana Democrat John Breaux and Mississippi Republican Trent Lott, with 70 years in Congress between them, have launched their own firm, the Breaux Lott Leadership Group, which represents Shell Oil (RDS.A), Chevron (CVX), and the pharmaceutical industry. Breaux was a centrist in a narrowly divided Senate who often could be counted on to help add a few critical votes from either side.

Kenneth M. Duberstein is held in similarly high regard across party lines; his past as Ronald Reagan's chief of staff doesn't matter to many Democrats. It helps, of course, that he has partnered with Michael S. Berman, a former Clinton White House adviser and Democratic conventions organizer. Duberstein Group clients include the health insurance industry, Comcast (CMCSA), UAL (UAUA), Novartis (NVS), Sara Lee (SLE), and BP (BP).

Meanwhile, the Ogilvy Government Relations lobbying firm—managed by Wayne Berman, a longtime GOP lobbyist who raised money for John McCain—is refashioning itself for the new crowd in town. Since 2007 it has added a half-dozen Democratic staffers, including Moses Mercado, a onetime aide to former Majority Leader Dick Gephardt, and Dean Aguillen, who had served as Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi's "Director of Member Services"—essentially, her eyes and ears with House Democrats.


Thomas Hale Boggs Jr. could well be the most influential Washington icon who never held elected office. Sure, his father was House Democratic Majority Leader in the early 1970s, and you've probably heard his sister, NPR and ABC political commentator Cokie Roberts. But it's hard to top Boggs, once an economist advising President Lyndon B. Johnson, for sheer door-opening, policy-swaying clout. Analyses of campaign contributions, lobbying expenses, and other money flows, together with a social networking study of Washington lobbying done by prominent American University professor James Thurber, suggest that Boggs' law firm, Patton Boggs, has more combined influence inside the Beltway than any other lobbying outfit. With hundreds of clients in virtually every business sector, the firm earned some $29.8 million in reported lobbying income in 2008 alone, more than any other firm. Its roster of clients includes Verizon (VZ), Microsoft (MSFT), E*Trade (ETFC), and the Managed Funds Assn.

That's a long way from the four-year-old law firm Boggs joined in 1966. Boggs, who pioneered the notion that a law firm could expand into lobbying and wield more influence than competitors that do lobbying alone, has headed the practice since 1999. Today, Patton Boggs is a full-service dynamo at the forefront of litigation, corporate law, and regulatory battles. It also advises sovereign wealth funds.

Of course, Boggs' friendships with Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), Barney Frank (D-Mass.), and John D. Dingell (D-Mich.) still matter. And at 68, he remains in the thick of things— notably as the hired hand of Cerberus Capital Management, owner of Chrysler, a recipient of a $4 billion bailout (and counting). Boggs is on familiar terrain: In 1979 he helped Chrysler and the United Auto Workers persuade Congress and the Carter Administration to approve what was then a controversial record loan guarantee: $1.5 billion.


For lobbyist Linda Hall Daschle, spouse of former Senate Majority leader and newly minted Obama health reform czar Tom Daschle, business is only likely to keep getting better. After three decades as a regulator and lobbyist, she has a large portfolio of clients that includes commercial carriers, airports, railroads, and telecom companies.

The daughter of an airline mechanic, Daschle has always loved aviation. She was a weather observer for the Federal Aviation Administration in the 1970s, then helped start a regional airline, Royal-Air Limited. Daschle eventually became acting director of the FAA—its first female head—and then lobbied for the airline industry's Air Transport Assn., Clients such as American Airlines (AMR), Boeing (BA), Lockheed Martin, and Cleveland Hopkins International Airport now queue up for her time.

Friends and competitors say Daschle is among the hardest- working lobbyists in Washington, and she says she will not lobby on health matters, avoiding potential conflicts of interest. In January she quit lobbying firm Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz to fly solo with her own firm, LHD & Associates. Still, there's no escaping the fact that her husband is Obama's go-to guy for health care and a mentor to the young President. At least some potential clients may think they will get a bigger bang for their buck simply because of the Daschle connection.

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