Lobbyists are being welcomed back into the fold of the Democratic Party as the Obama era draws to a close.
President Obama campaigned heavily against special interests in 2008 and put in place several new policies limiting their service in his administration. The Democratic National Committee (DNC) banned lobbyist contributions, and lobbyists began complaining of a stigma — a “scarlet L” — being attached unfairly to their industry.
Times appear to be changing, though, with the outward hostility to the K Street crowd thawing.
Presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump defends indicted GOP congressman GOP lawmaker says he expects to be indicted over FBI investigation Why it's time for conservatives to accept the 2020 election results and move on MORE has accepted more than $9 million in bundled donations from registered lobbyists, while the DNC has rolled back the lobbyist bans that Obama put into place.
“In 2008 and 2012, there was no integration with the [Obama] campaign,” said Al Mottur, a senior Democratic lobbyist at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, adding that he would have liked to have helped. “Now, the campaign is welcoming — they’re open to us. That’s why I’ve done as much work for her as I’ve done on her behalf.”
Mottur alone has brought in $273,956 for the Clinton campaign and her joint fundraising committee from other donors since January 2015, according to Federal Election Commission records. He says his support is rooted in a long friendship with Clinton and the belief that she would make a “terrific president.”
Lobbyist bundlers have contributed to Clinton’s massive donor advantage over the Republican nominee, Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTrump defends indicted GOP congressman House to vote Thursday on holding Bannon in contempt Youngkin calls for investigation into Loudoun County School Board amid sexual assault allegations MORE.
Lobbyists Steve Elmendorf of Subject Matter, Capitol Counsel’s David Jones, and American Association for Justice CEO Linda Lipsen have each raised more than $100,000 for the campaign by “bundling” checks from friends and associates.
Other advocates helping Clinton include Heather Podesta, Rich Gold of Holland & Knight, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld’s Don Pongrace and Microsoft’s Fred Humphries.
The money bundled by lobbyists represents only a fraction of the total $229 million Clinton has raised since the beginning of last year, but it could herald a resurgence of Washington advocates within the executive branch.
Clinton’s bundler policy also gives lobbyists hope that she may reverse Obama’s policies, issued via executive order, that were intended to slow down what he called the “revolving door” between government and the private sector.
“There are a lot of people on K Street who certainly hope she would” reverse or ignore an executive order signed by Obama aimed at limiting registered lobbyists from getting jobs in the White House, said Mary Beth Stanton of Heather Podesta + Partners.
“With the anti-Washington sentiment of this campaign ... it wouldn’t be something that would be discussed today,” she added. “That’s a staffing issue, and that’s not something that they’ll decide until they have to.”
Heather Podesta + Partners is hosting a brunch in Philadelphia and is known for organizing such events under a fun, tongue-in-cheek theme. In 2008, Podesta passed out red scarlet Ls in protest of the Obama rules.
In Cleveland, guests at the Republican National Convention brunch held by the firm wore “Make Lobbying Great Again” stickers, a reference to Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan.
Change at the DNC
The DNC under Obama banned corporate money to pay for the conventions, an extension of his campaign promises.
However, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Duke Energy, among others, were able to help “defray administrative expenses” of the Charlotte, N.C., nominating convention in 2012 through another nonprofit called New American City that was set up by the host committee.
For 2016, the DNC reversed the prohibition on lobbyist cash entirely, both for the party and the convention, giving corporations and lobbyists the opportunity to participate fully.
The American Association for Justice PAC, Lockheed Martin’s PAC, the United Food and Commercial Workers, Home Depot PAC and the AFSCME, among others, have all written checks to the DNC’s convention account so far this cycle.
The Trump effect
Trump’s controversial campaign had a tangible effect on the Republican convention last week in Cleveland.
Many companies skipped the event and declined to make donations for fear of being associated with the businessman’s controversial rhetoric. Several Republican lobbyists who did come to Cleveland told The Hill that they would be taking care of business for clients and out as quickly as possible.
While some had feared that the Trump effect would carry over to the Democratic convention, the calendar for events for Philadelphia appears more robust.
Clinton’s candidacy is also a draw for those on K Street, many of whom have been involved with the family for years.
“The community is supporting her, there is no question about that,” said David Castagnetti of Mehlman Castagnetti Rosen & Thomas. His firm is also kicking off the convention with a party on Monday.
“The thing with Mrs. Clinton is there certainly a historic moment, with the glass ceiling and her being the first female presidential candidate, so there’s a lot of history to be made. That keeps folks around,” he said. “The other difference is the party is more unified at this point than the Republican Party is.”
Despite a dwindling interest in spending big on conventions, the Philadelphia Host Committee says it has raised approximately $55 million in “cash and hard commitments” and $16 million in in-kind services, though the full amounts are hard to tabulate until the convention is over.
The host committees do not handle any of the political plans for the conventions but organize the venue, security and basic aspects like electricity.
The list of donors to the host committee — a nonprofit organization that can take unlimited sums of money — is not released until 60 days following the convention.