Bailed-out firms start rebuilding on K St.

Big banks and automakers bailed out by the government are now on a K Street shopping spree.

Over the past few months, the biggest beneficiaries of the $700 billion financial bailout have hired a slew of blue-chip lobbyists to boost their presence in Washington.

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Congressional lawmakers and consumer advocacy organizations pressured companies to stop lobbying when they took bailout money. But as the companies regain their health, with some banks soaring in the process, they are heavily lobbying the administration and Capitol Hill.

General Motors, which went to Washington in late 2008 in need of emergency aid and then passed through bankruptcy in 2009, has hired three outside lobbying firms already in 2010.

GM hired Public Strategies, Navigators and Dutko Worldwide to lobby on tax, trade, auto safety and other issues, according to congressional records. 

“As we went through the restructuring period, we put our use of outside consultants on suspended animation,” said Greg Martin, a GM spokesman. “As a new GM gets back to business, there are a number of issues, such as taxes and trade, that require us to use some expertise. … Certainly we have to be as engaged as our competition.”

Martin said GM doesn’t have plans yet to add other lobbyists, but that could change.

Chrysler Group LLC, which also received a major taxpayer bailout and entered bankruptcy last year, is currently in the hunt for a new head of its Washington office, said spokeswoman Linda Becker. The office now has three registered lobbyists.

John Bozzella, who previously directed Chrysler’s lobbying efforts, left the company at the end of 2009 to work for Cerberus Capital Management, the private equity fund that in 2007 bought a major stake in the automaker. 

Chrysler recently retained Patricia Kennedy to lobby on an interim basis. In mid-January, the carmaker also announced that Robert Liberatore, the veteran lobbyist for Chrysler who retired in 2007, would return to provide advice. Liberatore joined Chrysler in 1985 after working on Capitol Hill for 10 years, including four years with Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.).

Liberatore is not a registered lobbyist, but is providing advice to Sergio Marchionne, CEO of Fiat, the Italian car giant that bought most of Chrysler’s assets out of bankruptcy.

Banks that received tens of billions of dollars from the bailout program have also been hiring a wide range of lobbyists in the last few months.

Their efforts come as House and Senate lawmakers consider sweeping new regulations intended to prevent the need for future taxpayer-funded bailouts.

Senators now are working through the thorniest aspects of the bill after the House passed its overhaul legislation in December on a party-line vote.

Goldman Sachs hired the Harold Ford Group in December and Gibson Dunn & Crutcher in January to work on financial reform legislation, according to congressional records. Goldman also hired two in-house lobbyists at the end of 2009: Joyce Brayboy, formerly with the Glover Park Group, and Eric Edwards, a former staffer for Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.).

Meanwhile, Morgan Stanley hired the Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal law firm to lobby on the overhaul measures in mid-January, according to congressional records. 

Bank of America hired the Podesta Group and spent $60,000 with the firm in the fourth quarter.

Bank of New York Mellon added another in-house lobbyist in the last few months, and U.S. Bancorp, one of the country’s largest banks, set up its first in-house lobbying office.

Consumer advocacy organizations, such as Americans for Financial Reform, as well as Elizabeth Warren, the Harvard professor and head of a congressional watchdog panel on the bailout money, have roundly criticized the companies for lobbying against new financial regulations.

The financial, insurance and real estate industries spent roughly $465 million on lobbying in 2009, the most in a decade, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.