By Kevin Bogardus - 03/06/14 06:00 AM EST
Hillary Clinton’s K Street network is preparing for a White House run in 2016.
With Democrats in Congress already anointing Clinton as the party’s standard-bearer, lobbyists are pledging their allegiance and making clear they will do whatever they can to help the former first lady become first in command.
“I never even considered anyone else,” Jones said.
Clinton has not yet revealed her plans for 2016. But after more than two decades in national politics as first lady, senator and secretary of State, she has a virtual army of Washington hands standing ready to serve as foot soldiers in a presidential campaign.
Many of the lobbyists helped Clinton with her last run for the White House in 2008 and say they are willing and eager to jump back on the train.
“Absolutely, 100 percent,” said Steve Elmendorf, president of Elmendorf Ryan, when asked if he would support a Clinton run. “To me, it’s not even a close call. … Among Democrats, there’s no one else as well-positioned to win as her.”
Lobbyists are often crucial players in a candidate’s campaign, offering valuable political advice, strategy and policy expertise. They also serve as donors and bundlers of the cash needed to fund a national campaign.
Lawyers and lobbyists gave more than $18 million in campaign contributions to Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Elmendorf is among a number of prominent fundraisers on K Street who could help build a Clinton machine. Tony Podesta, chairman of Podesta Group, is another campaign rainmaker who is expected to support her if she runs.
In addition, a number of lobbyists and consultants have already taken formal positions with the “shadow campaign” that is being waged in Clinton’s name.
In January, Priorities USA Action announced that Jonathan Mantz of BGR Group would become a senior adviser. The super-PAC, which was created for President Obama’s reelection campaign, is retooling in anticipation of a Clinton bid.
Mantz was the national finance director for Clinton’s 2008 campaign. Jay Dunn, a senior managing director for FTI Consulting, was Mantz’s deputy in 2008, and lobbyists consider him a likely Clinton backer in 2016.
Another prominent K Street supporter is former Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.), who is an adviser to the super-PAC Ready for Hillary, which is already on the ground in primary states like Iowa and South Carolina.
“She [Clinton] is perhaps inevitable because of her enormous skills and experience. … Only she can make the decision, and she hasn’t yet. So we will just have to wait and see, but for many of us, she’s the one,” said Tauscher, who was undersecretary for arms control at the State Department with Clinton.
Tauscher is not a registered lobbyist, but she is a strategic adviser at Baker Donelson.
Ready for Hillary has drawn donations from lobbyists, including from Harold Ickes of the Ickes & Enright Group, a senior adviser to Clinton’s 2008 campaign who chipped in $2,500.
The Clintons’ long history in Washington gives them a deep bench of former staffers to choose from when assembling a political operation, and many lobbyists are already being talked about as 2016 recruits.
Several lobbyists named Kris Balderston as a likely Clinton backer. A former senior aide to Clinton in both the Senate and at the State Department, Balderston now leads FleishmanHillard’s Washington office.
Further, lobbyists expect that Tamera Luzzatto, Clinton’s former Senate chief of staff who is now at the Pew Charitable Trusts, would be a Hillary supporter, along with her husband, David Leiter of ML strategies, who worked in the Energy Department during the Clinton administration.
Corporate lobbyists such as Tim Keating of Boeing and Mary Streett of Exelon — both veterans of the Clinton White House — would also be likely to support a run.
And two other high-profile Clinton White House alums — Joel Johnson and Susan Brophy, both at Glover Park Group — would almost certainly back Clinton if she ran again, according to lobbyists.
But while lobbyists are ready to hoist the Clinton banner, they said there has not yet been an effort to organize them on her behalf.
“It’s not like there is a K Street kitchen cabinet for her. There are a number of us who worked for her, around her and supported her. But there’s no organized effort for Hillary among lobbyists,” said a former Clinton administration aide now on K Street.
“For every one lobbyist close to Hillary, there are probably five political operatives out there who are just as close to her but are not registered lobbyists.”
Stalwarts from the 2008 Clinton campaign are raring to go again.
Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (D) said, “I think she would have made a great president before, and now with her experience as Secretary of State, she will make an even better president in 2016.”
A campaign surrogate, Rendell called himself one of “the last of the Mohicans” because he supported Hillary until the very end of her campaign.
“I was very fond of that distinction. … In the last three or four weeks, there were few of us to be found,” said Rendell, who is now special counsel at Ballard Spahr.
K Streeters say that other 2008 supporters will be ready to move once Clinton says she’s in.
Lobbyists at DLA Piper, including partners Mac Bernstein and John Merrigan, helped raise money for Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign and would support her again.
Al Mottur and Manuel Ortiz of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck would also be in Clinton’s corner.
One question facing a Clinton campaign would be whether to follow Obama’s lead by refusing lobbyist contributions and barring them from bundling checks.
“No idea,” said one Democratic lobbyist when asked about Clinton banning lobbyists. “I would doubt it because there has been vast discussion of the talent he [Obama] robbed himself of. She [Clinton] has never developed that allergy or antipathy.”
Ethics watchdog Craig Holman said he’s skeptical that Obama’s example will be followed.
“To my knowledge, Hillary has never said anything pro or con, but I’m very dubious that she will continue these policies. … Throughout the Clinton administration, I didn’t see any interest in making special restrictions or defending ethics rules,” said Holman, a government affairs lobbyist with Public Citizen.