Podesta Group staffs up with Republicans

A Washington lobbying firm that is often associated with the Obama administration and congressional Democrats is adding more Republicans to its staff ahead of expected GOP gains in the House and Senate in Tuesday’s elections. 

The Podesta Group has hired several prominent Republicans during the past year. The firm recently added Mike Quaranta, the longtime chief of staff to centrist Republican Rep. Mike Castle (Del.). 

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Quaranta is joining Podesta Group as a principal after seven years working for Castle, who is retiring from Congress after losing in the Delaware Senate primary to Christine O’Donnell. 

“They have a deep bench of Republicans [at Podesta],” Quaranta told The Hill. “Witness my hire and the others they are announcing, that perhaps reflect the times. But I feel like they have a pretty good balance already in place.”

Tony Podesta, the head of the firm, said Quaranta is “a terrific guy” and “has great knowledge in areas that cover our practice.”

“He is sort of the person who doesn’t come up very often as a free agent. When he did, we grabbed him,” Podesta said. 

Podesta said the firm was not “making an election bet” and it is “always in the market for good Republicans as well as for good Democrats.”

“We weren’t motivated by the political winds. We have recently added a strong Democrat, Stephanie O’Keefe, and we wouldn’t have done that if we were just looking to hire Republicans only,” Podesta said. 

Quaranta is not the only Republican to join the ranks at Podesta Group. According to the firm, at least six other Republicans have arrived at the lobby shop in 2010. 

Just last week, Podesta picked up Christy Clark, a former Treasury Department official and senior adviser to Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), and Rebecca Edgar, a Republican lobbyist who has worked at Podesta before. 

Those new hires follow several other Republicans joining the firm this year, including Steve Northrup, former top healthcare adviser to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee under then-Chairman Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.); Molly McKew, once a research program manager at the conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute; Peggy Binzel, who got her start on Capitol Hill as legislative director for former Rep. Jack Fields (R-Texas); and Bob Taylor, a former Defense Department deputy assistant secretary who has also worked for several Republican senators, including John Thune (S.D.). 

Podesta Group also had several Republican employees before 2010. 

The firm’s CEO is Kimberley Fritts, who has held several positions with Republicans, including stints as deputy campaign manager for former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and political director for former Sen. Connie Mack (Fla.). In addition, Republicans such as David Marin, former minority staff director for the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and John Scofield, ex-communications director for the House Appropriations Committee, have been with the firm for several years.

With the new hires alongside the old hands at the firm, the Podesta Group now has 17 Republican lobbyists and 19 Democrats at the principal level. 

Podesta said his firm has employed both Democrats and Republicans since 1993.

“We pitch every client with a bipartisan team. We have not pitched one client saying, ‘Hire us, we’re the best Democrats.’ We will put up our Republicans against anyone in town,” Podesta said. 

Like the other Republicans at Podesta, Quaranta has extensive experience in government. 

Leading Castle’s office was his third tour of duty on Capitol Hill, after working for the then-Senate Intergovernmental Relations subcommittee as well as for ex-Sen. David Durenberger (R-Minn.) as a legislative assistant.

Quaranta has also worked in the private sector. In the past, he has served as vice president of federal and state government affairs at Experian Information Solutions as well as director of federal government affairs at TRW Inc. 

Quaranta said he was impressed by the Podesta “multidisciplinary” approach to lobbying, which focuses not just on legislation, but also on regulation and public relations.

He is expected to focus on education and financial-services issues at the firm.

“The variety of the work and the challenge of the work is just something I find very stimulating,” Quaranta said. “What really made this attractive is that these guys really take on challenging assignments.” 

Podesta said his firm is in talks with other Republicans, as well as Democrats, about joining the lobby shop. 

“Our business is still growing and we are still looking for talent,” Podesta said.