Ex-Pelosi staffers in demand on K Street

Ex-Pelosi staffers in demand on K Street
© Stefani Reynolds

Businesses and trade groups are turning to former aides to Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump says no legislation until Dems end probes Threat of impeachment takes oxygen out of 2019 agenda Trump denies 'tantrum' in meeting with Pelosi: 'It is all such a lie!' MORE (D-Calif.) as they look to push their priorities in the Democratic House.

Seventeen former Pelosi staffers were active registered lobbyists during the first quarter of 2019, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

And the two top lobbying shops for the first quarter of the year, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld and Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, both boast former Pelosi aides: Arshi Siddiqui, a former senior policy adviser, and Nadeam Elshami, a former chief of staff, respectively.

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Former Pelosi staffers in the influence world found themselves in the spotlight after she regained the Speaker's gavel. But even as K Street enjoys a financial bump under President TrumpDonald John TrumpFeinstein, Iranian foreign minister had dinner amid tensions: report The Hill's Morning Report - Trump says no legislation until Dems end probes Harris readies a Phase 2 as she seeks to rejuvenate campaign MORE and a Democratic House, former staffers' ties to the most powerful Democratic leader in Washington also bring tough questions.

The Democratic base is increasingly pushing back on the influence world — and 2020 candidates are disavowing lobbyist or corporate special influence money. Pelosi has accepted PAC donations and lobbyist money, though the numbers amount to a tiny fraction of the massive haul the prodigious fundraiser brings in for her party.

Pelosi's office did not comment for this story.

The new scrutiny on lobbyists in Democratic circles doesn't appear to be affecting work downtown for former Pelosi aides, as first quarter numbers remained strong.

“Our clients want results and are much more savvy than to think one policymaker, no matter how important, can unilaterally save the day,” Siddiqui, who left Pelosi's office in 2010 after seven years and has been a partner at Akin Gump for nine, told The Hill.

Sources who talked to The Hill said Pelosi, who has been House Democratic leader since 2003, has never had the reputation of a K Street creature. They said Pelosi doesn't have regular meetings with former staffers-turned-lobbyists, unlike many other lawmakers.

“She has a national base of support and a national network of experts that can be relied on for a range of topics. It helps to be from California, where there is every kind of industry, every academic institution, state and local governments,” a lobbyist told The Hill.

“Pelosi staff who go downtown are hired because they are super smart and know how things work, not because they have special access to her,” a former Democratic House aide told the Hill.

Still, former Pelosi aides who become lobbyists are seen at the top of their game and touted for their connections to Capitol Hill.

“Former Speaker Pelosi aides working as lobbyists are probably fully aware that their relationship with the Speaker doesn’t guarantee them any support or nonsupport when it comes to legislative priorities," a Democratic lobbyist told The Hill.

But the lobbyist acknowledged that a "working relationship with the Speaker’s office would be more helpful than not when it comes to flagging important matters for staff to be aware of."

“Speaker Pelosi is a strong leader, and it make sense that firms want to project that they have strong ties to her whether they move the needle on issues or not,” a former House aide who is now a lobbyist told The Hill.

“Experience suggests that Speaker Pelosi will only do what is in her party’s and constituents’ interest, but big firms want to market the perception that they provide access to the Speaker.”

Democrats under Pelosi have also pushed an ambitious series of electoral and money reforms, the first dubbed H.R. 1, which passed the House in March. The bills are dead in the GOP-controlled Senate but had many on K Street worried about tough new restrictions on lobbying.

“Speaker Pelosi passed H.R. 1 to start the Congress because it was a top priority for Democrats during the campaign last year. Democrats believe this was an important step to restoring confidence and accountability in our elections and in Washington," another former House aide-turned-lobbyist told The Hill. "The last thing on her mind was how this might affect former staffers.”

Another lobbyist said the anti-lobbying fervor among Democrats had not hurt Pelosi's reputation with former aides.

“Like more good bosses, Speaker Pelosi has a reputation for wanting to see her former staff succeed, whether inside or outside government,” the Democratic lobbyist said.

The influence of former Pelosi staffers runs deep and wide in the lobbying world.

Among Siddiqui's clients this quarter are Comcast Corporation on telecom issues, as well as CVS Health and the Business Roundtable. Elshami has been working for Johnson & Johnson, the Cannabis Trade Federation and high-speed rail industry groups.

Dean Aguillen, senior vice president at Ogilvy Government Relations, spent five years working for Pelosi, including as senior adviser and director of member services. Last quarter, he registered with PhRMA to work on prescription drug affordability, an issue on which President Trump and Pelosi are calling for reforms.

Another notable Pelosi aide-turned-lobbyist is Anne MacMillan, a partner at Invariant — Heather Podesta’s firm.

A number of former Pelosi aides also work as in-house lobbyists for high-profile companies. Alexandra Veitch, who’s a lobbyist for Tesla, was a senior adviser to Pelosi; Tom Manatos, who lobbies for Spotify, was her senior adviser for member services; and Catlin O’Neill, who now works in Facebook’s Washington, D.C., office, was her chief of staff before leaving in 2013.

Amy Rosenbaum, who left Pelosi's office in 2010, went on to run legislative affairs for then-President Obama and is now at CVS Health.

In the trade association space, Michael Bloom is vice president of federal government affairs at the Internet Association. He was Pelosi’s senior adviser and left in 2017 after more than 11 years with her.

And the influence of former Pelosi aides extends beyond lobbying. Many are not registered lobbyists but do advocacy work for nonprofits or are in academia or other congressional offices.

Pelosi's second stint as Speaker is a new world for many of her old hands. The peaker must now contend with a much more vocal and empowered progressive wing, willing to challenge her on their priorities.

“Lobbying Democrats requires a mix of sound policy and politics combined with the right timing," Siddiqui told The Hill.

It was important to have a "nuanced understanding of how consensus is built in the Democratic Caucus" in her work, she added.

Aguillen said the biggest boost from working with Pelosi was "the perspective of knowing the Hill from the inside" and now being able to share that with clients.

"You are able to advise people if they are approaching an issue the right way because you understand the thinking inside the caucus,” he said.