Former CBC director Brathwaite, now lobbyist, is ‘Mr. Connection’

As the former executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus, Paul Brathwaite navigated the politics of the House Democratic Caucus to advance the CBC’s interests. Today, he is a principal with one of Washington’s most powerful and profitable lobbying firms, the Podesta Group. 

But for Brathwaite, 36, and a handful of young, ambitious people of color, it was a stint working for former Secretary of Labor Alexis Herman that advanced their careers. More than any other official in the Clinton administration, she did the most to promote them.

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For proof, glance around Capitol Hill and K Street today. Herman’s former aides are working at the highest levels of politics, including Brathwaite himself.  

On Capitol Hill, Dean Aguillen serves the needs of individual lawmakers for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), while Ana Ma is a senior counsel to Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.).

Beyond Washington, Leah Daughtery, the CEO of the Democratic National Convention in Denver, and Mona Mohib, the policy and communications director at the Democratic Governors Association, are helping the party in its efforts to capture the White House and win more gubernatorial races.  

Marcus Jodette, a deputy campaign manager for Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), is a top official at NASCAR, and Jarvis Stewart, who became chief of staff to former Rep. Harold Ford (D-Tenn.), runs his own lobbying shop.

Brathwaite, born in Washington and raised in Delaware, graduated from Delaware State University. He did his first internship with then-Rep. and current Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) in 1991. Two years later, he did another internship with Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.).

After graduating from Duke University’s public policy school and law school in 1996, he worked as a staff attorney in the Department of Transportation (DoT), writing legal memoranda and reviewing rules and regulations.

Politically ambitious young lawyers, however, need to give up the security of civil service jobs to advance in party politics.
With that in mind, Brathwaite left DoT to work as a special assistant to Herman. But she was not going to let Brathwaite sit in the rarified air of her office and offer policy and political advice without paying his dues.

Herman, the director of the Labor Department’s Women’s Bureau during the Carter administration, told Brathwaite to learn the politics and policies in the bowels of the Department of Labor.

She sent him to the Employment Standards Administration, where he worked for Bernie Anderson, the first black professor to be tenured at the Wharton School of Business. Brathwaite worked for Anderson for 13 months as his chief of staff and then deputy assistant secretary.

Following the 2000 election, Brathwaite applied to become the executive director of the CBC, the House Democrats’ largest and most powerful caucus. He survived an interview with Reps. Gregory Meeks (N.Y.), Elijah Cummings (Md.), Sheila Jackson Lee (Texas), Bobby Rush (Ill.) and Eddie Bernice Johnson (Texas) — and got the job.

During Brathwaite’s six years at the CBC, he worked for three chairmen — Reps. Johnson, Cummings and Mel Watt (D-N.C) — as he tried to build the institution’s infrastructure. One problem facing the CBC is that the chairman’s position rotates every two years. The resulting turnover among leaders and staff tends to leave the organization without any institutional memory.

Brathwaite addressed that and other challenges. In particular, Cummings and Brathwaite worked to raise the CBC’s media profile and to reach out to corporate America.

Cummings said that most corporate executives assumed either that they could never get the CBC’s support or that they had the CBC’s unconditional backing. Both assumptions cut the CBC out of the legislative process. So Brathwaite and Cummings doubled their efforts to talk to CEOs.

Brathwaite also helped the CBC pass election-reform legislation in the wake of the disputed 2000 presidential race; enact President Bush’s plan to spend $15 billion fighting AIDS in Africa; and host two Democratic Party presidential debates in 2004, both of which were sponsored by the CBC Institute.

 When the Democrats captured the majority in 2006, Brathwaite let it be known that he wanted to do something else. He joined Tony Podesta’s posh and profitable lobbying shop earlier this year.

“He’s a No. 1 draft choice in any year,” said Podesta. “We see a lot of people, but most people walk in and say they want to make more money. Paul was the only person who has joined us in the last half-dozen years where everybody said, ‘He’s great, let’s [hire him].’”

Now, one could assume that Brathwaite was hired to lobby the CBC. Maybe he was. But if Podesta is as shrewd as his high-powered client list believes him to be, he would know that Brathwaite also worked closely with Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) when he was the CBC’s executive director.

Podesta also is aware that Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) is the House Democratic whip, and that four black lawmakers chair full committees and another 17 chair subcommittees. That’s nearly 50 percent of the CBC in the top slots.  

“I call him ‘Mr. Connection,’” Cummings said.

Is Brathwaite worried about being typecast as a black lobbyist?

“No, I embrace it,” Brathwaite said during a late lunch at ESPN Zone. “Why? Because my members are in charge.”

Brathwaite is now serving the needs of a lucrative client list, including Amgen, Pfizer, Wal-Mart, the National Association of Broadcasters, Tyco and National Public Radio. Even though he’s off the Hill, the politicking never ends. As the end of the second quarter approaches on June 30, Brathwaite has been getting multiple phone calls from several members, asking him to put together fundraisers.

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