The lobbying firm Podesta Group has been hired by the Iraqi government. Photograph: screenshot, Podesta Group website
The sleazy but legal process that drives Washington has a new happy couple as its latest symbol: Tony Podesta and Nouri al-Maliki
February 14, 2013
Whenever you think DC sleaze has reached its low point, it always manages to prove you wrong. Politico's Byron Taub and Anna Palmer this afternoon report that the authoritarian, human-rights-abusing government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Malki is about to hire The Podesta Group as its first lobbying firm.
That firm is run by Tony Podesta, who legally peddles his influence with Democratic Party politicians to shape legislation on behalf of companies such as BP Oil, General Dynamics, Walmart, and Bank of America. The New York Times, calling him one of DC's most powerful "superlobbyists", described the explosive growth his firm enjoyed since the Democrats took control of Congress in 2006 and the White House in 2008. The Center for Public Integrity reported in 2011 that Podesta and his lobbyist-wife Heather were by far the largest lobbyist-bundlers as of that early point in the election cycle: Podesta came in "with just under $350,000 bundled to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) and the campaign of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada", while his wife "bundled donations have gone exclusively to Democrats Ś over $322,000 went to the DCCC and DSCC".
As the NYT profile put it, the lobbyists at his firm include people like "Israel Klein, a former top aide to Senator Charles E. Schumer," and they work "through a number of senior Democratic allies in both the House and the Senate." Podesta co-founded the Podesta Group with his brother John Podesta: Bill Clinton's White House Chief of Staff, chief of the Obama transition team, and now head of the Obama-supporting think tank Center for American Progress (CAP). Said the NYT: "some prospective clients, in fact, will contact Mr. Podesta because of his brother's ties to Mr. Obama" ("we'll say, 'No.' It's not what we do. We don't do access lobbying," Podesta replied without, at least according to the NYT account, emitting any audible chuckles).
About the Podesta Group's latest coup, Taub and Palmer report:
"The government of Iraq is in the final stages of inking a contract with the Podesta Group as its first DC lobbying firm, according to multiple sources. . . .
"Podesta was chosen in part for boss Tony Podesta's relationship with top Democrats Ś including Vice President Joe Biden. Podesta also has a long relationship with the Clintons, but Hillary Clinton is now no longer in charge of the State Department. Stephen Rademaker will take the lead on the account for Podesta.
"The Iraqi government is also in the market for a PR firm. Finalists include Edelman, LEVICK, and APCO Worldwide, among others, according to a source familiar with the government's thinking. It's the first lobbying contract for post-Saddam Hussein Iraq."
This little transaction has everything. Politically well-connected people getting rich by advancing the interests of oppressive and brutally authoritarian regimes (Podesta previously was a highly-paid lobbyist for Hosni Mubarak and "helped stall a Senate bill that called on Egypt to curtail human rights abuses"). The longer Obama, who vowed to curb lobbying influence, remains in power, the richer Democratic lobbyists get. And the avaricious feeding at the trough takes place on a fully bipartisan basis (the lead lobbyist for the Iraq account, Rademaker, was a Bush State Department and White House official and top aide to GOP Sen. Bill Frist and proudly claims lead responsibility for "drafting the legislation that created the US Department of Homeland Security").
When the Obama White House first released its visitor logs back in 2009, US News and World Report noted:
"To insiders, the list showed something else: The power of the Podesta family. Between them, Obama adviser and former Clinton Chief of Staff John Podesta; his brother, lobbyist Tony Podesta; and Tony's lobbying wife Heather made 25 visits. By comparison, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made one visit."
Last September, Politico described a party given by the Podestas at which "House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Sen. Kay Hagen (D-N.C.), Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and Debbie Dingell, wife to Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), were in attendance mixing with Podesta Group and Heather Podesta + Partners lobbyists, clients and friends, including representatives from companies like Novo Nordisk" ("guests noshed on duck and corn quesadillas, miniqueches and local stone-ground grits, and waiters passed moonshine and ginger ale cocktails in mason jars").
Said Politico: "The event is a prime example of the hobnobbing between public officials and downtowners that has continued in the Obama era." And Podesta openly scoffed at the idea that Obama's anti-lobbyist rhetoric has changed anything: "I don't even think there was a chill at the beginning, I think that the White House wants to meet with stakeholders."
The Maliki government will certainly have significant need for Podesta's influence. Authoritarian regimes in general have big business to do in Washington, but as Politico notes: "The country faces a number of significant challenges in the capital Ś including repairing a somewhat strained relationship with the Obama administration in the aftermath of a failure to come to an agreement on a status of forces agreement in 2011."
What Politico means by that is President Obama's failed effort to persuade/cajole the Iraqi government to allow US troops to stay in the country beyond the deadline imposed by the Status of Forces Agreement entered into by the Bush and Maliki governments (after that failure - which forced the withdrawal of US troops against the will of the US president - Obama supporters characteristically celebrated the great president for ending the war in Iraq). The Maliki government was prevented from agreeing to that extension when WikiLeaks cables detailed several horrific massacres of Iraqi civilians at the hands of US forces, which made it politically impossible for Maliki to give Obama the legal immunity for US troops he was demanding.
But the Maliki government need not worry: with the cash it is shoveling to the Podesta Group, the doors that swing open in Democratic power circles will undoubtedly assuage most of its concerns. For all the talk about elections and pretty politician speeches, this is the sleazy dynamic that actually drives America's Versailles on the Potomac. This repellent process now has a new happy couple as its symbol. Hearty congratulations are in order for Tony Podesta, Nouri al-Maliki, and everyone in Washington who will be showered with ample largesse from this joyous union.
There is a temporary problem with the comment section, which is being worked on and should be fixed shortly (Update: it should be working now).
Also, for a short time after this column was posted, it noted, in error, that the Politico item reporting on this new contract was by Mike Allen. It is actually by Byron Taub and Anna Palmer, and it's now been edited to correct that.