New Group to Offer Cover for Lobbyists and White House

Business as usual continues in Washington DC. From The Hill (hat tip Tom Ferguson):

A new business trade group run by Democrats close to President Obama may offer K Street an avenue into a White House extremely wary of lobbyists.

Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to and close friend of Obama; Michael Strautmanis, Jarrett’s chief of staff; and Tina Tchen, the White House public liaison director, met with more than 40 executives and lobbyists from several Fortune 500 companies at a reception last Friday at the Hay-Adams Hotel.

The reception was the first official function sponsored by Business Forward, a new trade group founded by several Democratic consultants.

Some lobbyists said Jarrett’s appearance was a huge selling point for the new group.

“If I am a company and if I see these folks are delivering Valerie Jarrett, I am signing up because there are few people in town who can deliver her right now,” a Democratic lobbyist said.

Yves here. Notice the use of words, “deliver”, like property. Ugh. Back to the piece:

Several former aides to President Obama and other high-profile Democrats are associated with the new group. Business Forward’s board includes Erik Smith, a paid media adviser to Obama’s campaign, and David Sutphen, former general counsel to Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and now a partner with the Brunswick Group, the public-relations giant.

Also involved are Hilary Rosen, the former chairwoman and CEO of the Recording Industry Association of America, and Julie Andreeff Jensen, who directed get-out-the-vote efforts in Pennsylvania for the Obama campaign. Both now work at Brunswick.

There are also family connections between the group and Obama’s circle of advisers.

Sutphen is the brother of Mona Sutphen, deputy White House chief of staff. Doyle is married to Patti Solis Doyle, who worked for both Hillary Rodham Clinton’s and Obama’s presidential campaigns.

Several lobbyists said the association is targeting the tech industry in particular. AT&T, Google, Microsoft, Cisco, Pfizer and Time Warner were named as potential recruits.

Doyle said the association is seeking a 501(c)(6) tax status, which is for trade groups, from the IRS.

“We are going to focus on events and policy briefings. We do not expect to lobby,” Doyle said.

Yves here. And the Pope isn’t Catholic, either. Back to the story:

Membership fees are expected to be $75,000 for founding companies and $1,500 for small businesses.

The formation of the new association comes at a time when the White House has ramped up its criticism of K Street.

Last Friday, Obama announced new rules to limit the interaction between administration officials and lobbyists regarding projects in the stimulus package. Lobbyists will have to submit materials to be published online, and their meetings with officials will also be disclosed publicly.

Lobbyists say they are finding it difficult to set up meetings or get their calls returned by officials in the White House — even longtime friends made in former campaigns or congressional offices years ago.

“You have lobbyists shut out of the game,” said the Democratic lobbyist.

“In the end, they don’t want to be a liability,” the lobbyist added, talking about White House aides.

Some business trade association representatives see Business Forward as an invention of the White House to create a fissure within the business community, which typically leans Republican.

“The president is trying to convince businesses to join this new association to replace the Chamber [of Commerce], NFIB [National Federation of Independent Business], NAM [National Association of Manufacturers] and the Wholesalers all in one,” said Jade West, senior vice president of government relations for the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors (NAW), one of the few business groups to oppose Obama’s stimulus package.

“Obama’s policies are so viscerally anti-business that it makes no sense to join this group.”

Doyle rejected the contention that administration aides are behind the association, saying they plan to have Republicans and independents join the group.

“We are very pleased to have the support of the administration, but this is an opportunity created by the 2008 campaign. We want to create a way to have these people stay involved and speak as business leaders, not just as supporters,” Doyle said.

Having a reliable voice of support from the business community for his policies would be a powerful political weapon for Obama as he works to right the economy. During the stimulus debate, the White House would often trumpet support from CEOs and business groups for the recovery effort.

Yves again. So If I am reading this correctly, the gimmick is that business executives will pled their case directly rather than through lobbyists, and presumably the lobbyists will be in the background helping them hone their message.

The whole point of lobbying in the old days was to give businessmen and other special interests plausible deniability by creating organizations (often with innocuous to Orwellian names) to provide cover for who was behind them. Stripping away the veil is now deemed to be progress.

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  1. Anonymous

    >Doyle said the association is seeking a 501(c)(6) tax status, which is for trade groups, from the IRS. “We are going to focus on events and policy briefings. We do not expect to lobby,” Doyle said.

    Plenty of 501(c)(6) groups lobby; no reason not to expect Valerie Jarrett's organization to do the same. For example, the Institute of International Bankers is a 501(c)(6) group, and it lobbied for the Bush administration for the goodies handed out to domestic banks. In fact, the IBB is meeting this week in order to plan how they can lobby Obama for access to TARP and TALF financing. Maybe if they chant "systematic risk" Geithner and Summers will open taxpayers' wallets to them.

  2. Carrick

    I’m not endorsing this ‘new’ method, but there is something satisfying about seeing the CEOs petition (grovel) in person. Calling persisting in denial, self-delusion, whatever, but I presume that (the most gross of) CEOs hate to lobby directly, because it shatters their Alpha-male kingly delusions that the world comes to them.

    Companies deploying lobbyists, like emissaries (as though the corporations are coequal with the government), has always bugged me. I equally hate the idea that people have to come to the Government and ‘kiss the ring,’ but for corporations that hold (generally) “unelected” power over society… let them go in person and explain why their wants serve the public interest, instead of using a bag man.

  3. Anonymous

    These are precisely the filth that will be in the defense cage when the American people finally muster the courage to bring this despicably corrupt system to its knees and to start in on a course of show trials and cleansing.

  4. Richard

    It’s best to see Business Forward as a front organization, an ostensibly independent organization that in fact is created and directed by the administration. Instead of lobbyists and their clients directly approaching the government, they have to go through this group.

    There are several advantages: One is deniability–the administration can pretend they don’t deal with lobbyists. Another is control–business will have one gateway and one gateway only into the White House. In consequence, it will be easier for this group to withhold access than it would be for the government itself (which belongs to us all). And, of course, a toll–monetary and in policy–can be extracted before the gate is lifted.

    Instead of thinking of Business Forward in terms of a new lobbying firm (though you can bet its Demo-operative founders expect to get paid), it’s probably better to think of it operating as a kind of domestic Comintern.

  5. Anonymous

    >Instead of thinking of Business Forward in terms of a new lobbying firm (though you can bet its Demo-operative founders expect to get paid), it's probably better to think of it operating as a kind of domestic Comintern.

    There are people running 501(c)(6) organizations who pay themselves 2 million a year.

  6. Anonymous

    I think we need to leverage our deliverables into the kind of synergy I envision for public-private partnership!

  7. ndk

    “Obama’s policies are so viscerally anti-business that it makes no sense to join this group.”

    I can’t share this perspective, from where I sit — and I suspect she might be a bit biased too, given where she sits.

    You just have to be part of the right business. Consider, for example, that the Obama-Google connection scares competitors, and White House Using Google Moderator For Town Hall Meeting. And AppEngine. And YouTube.

    This is representative of a significant shift in the behavior of the pieces of the executive branch with which I interact: an intimacy with select corporations that would have been unthinkable before.

    I suspect less favored corporations will see their own influence correspondingly diminished.

  8. Larry

    Perhaps slightly off-topic, but concerning the business interests and the administration:

    Does anyone know if Summers still has a relationship with the hedge fund he used to “be with”?

    And totally off-topic: given his amorous history, shouldn’t former President Clinton be known hereafter as Stimulus Bill?

  9. Robert Wood

    Democ-rats cash in.

    Change you can believe in; very real change. You now must deal with us, not the Republicans.

  10. Independent Accountant

    Ah for the good old days when mobsters met at Little Appalachin in 1957 and got arrested for it.

  11. sanjay

    YS- I think you are being a little unkind. Requiring lobbyist to post online what ever material they will be handing over and making the details of the conversation public is a substantive change. In fact we should be arguing for that for all their contacts with Senators and Congressmen.

    I think we unfairly demonize lobbyists. Given the vast expansion in the complexity of government and the low salaries paid to Congressional staff and small staff sizes the expertise on complicated issues is often only with lobbyists who often focus on only one subject matter. Unless we expect the executive branch and congress to make laws based on incomplete knowledge we have to find a way in which people can plead.inform policy makers. This makes good business sense even if there was no constitutional right to do so.

    Rather than vilify them we should require everything they communicate to law makers to be made public and secondly make it illegal for any lobbyist to contribute, solicit bundle or raise money for any politician. Reduce their role to being solely a source of information that all Americans can benefit from not just the politician. That way we as the electorate will know whom our representatives are listening to and whose positions they have adopted.

  12. sanjay

    to follow up on Carrick’s comment. Having the CEO plead in person along with full disclosure of who was present (unlike the Cheney task force) are exactly the things we should be doing.

    A degree realism is required- the constitution provides a right to petition so you can’t stop the contact outright and even without the constitutional right it was going to happen. So the best thing we can do is flush it into the open. Sunlight is the best disinfectant and if the average voter doesn’t want to take the time to get informed preferring to watch American Idol they have nobody but themselves to blame and IMHO deserve to get screwed.

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