“I see lobbying,” Tony Podesta has said, “as getting information in the hands of people who are making decisions so they can make more informed decisions.” We see it as how obscene wealth can be amassed through rent-seeking and influence-peddling in Washington D.C., and of the hoary means by which the princelings of the capital and their consorts maintain and grow that wealth. This is the story of the power of lobbying, of how one family maneuvered to the center of the nation’s dominant political party, of the transactional relationships, gargantuan self-regard, and empty posturing that insulates, asbestos-like, the D.C. bubble.
Tony Podesta is no ordinary man. A longtime Democratic aide, a counselor to Teddy Kennedy, Tony has been one of the capital’s most powerful lobbyists for some time. The lobbying firm he had established in 1987 was powerfully connected. His younger brother, John, was President Clinton’s chief of staff. Tony Podesta owned art and wine and real estate in Italy, in Australia, in northern Virginia, and in D.C. He was a major Democratic donor, a force to be reckoned with, and a cut-up, a character who wore loud neckties and red Prada shoes. “The Pope wears Prada,” he is known to say, “and so do I”; married to Heather Miller Podesta. She emulated her spouse, developing, in the words of the Washington Post, “a penchant for flamboyantly patterned dresses.”
She joined the company, began lobbying. She picked up Tony’s art habit, and together they amassed a collection of more than 1,300 pieces. She set to work, renovating their six bedrooms, six-and-a-half bathroom home in Northwest D.C. off of Massachusetts Avenue, overlooking the Rock Creek Parkway. She wanted, “to create a uniquely beautiful architectural space for the dual purposes of having a wonderful home in which to live and promote their shared interests, both professional and personal.” The renovation took three years and cost millions of dollars. The “marital residence,” where they promoted their shared interests in holding parties and fundraisers for Democratic politicians, and housed immense wine and art collections, is estimated to be worth some $5.6 million. Concerned about income inequality? The Podestas are the One Percent.
They would visit their apartment in Venice, Italy, up to a dozen times a year, hosting Janet Napolitano, entertaining passersby such as Reps. Shelley Berkley and Eliot Engel, “even,” the Post once breathlessly intoned, “Teddy Kennedy.” They’d open their homes to tours, so people could enjoy the art, could witness the spectacle of their wealth.
In 2007 Podesta Matoon became the Podesta Group. Heather formed Heather Podesta + Partners, establishing two prongs of the Podesta family empire. The third prong was the Center for American Progress, founded in 2003 by John Podesta, who would oversee President Obama’s transition team in 2009, and join the Obama administration as a senior adviser in 2014. The Podestas had become the most important non-elected family in the Democratic Party.
In 2009, with the inauguration of Obama and the dawn of unified and unfettered Democratic control of Washington, business boomed. Revenues at Tony’s firm close to doubled, and revenues at Heather’s firm increased by 50 percent. The money has continued to roll in. The Podesta Group had some $13 million in lobbying income in 2013, sporting clients such as Lockheed Martin, Wells Fargo, U.S. Airways, Walmart, and the National Biodiesel Board. Heather Podesta + Partners made some $4 million, lobbying on behalf of health companies, the American Beverage Association, Brookfield Power, DeVry University, and others. A portion of that money was recycled, contributing to Democratic campaigns, opening up avenues of influence: Tony gave some $45,500 in 2013, all to Democrats; Heather some $95,798 to Democrats, Democratic committees, and liber....
As government expands, extending its reach to every aspect of business, every sector of the economy, private citizens and corporations require Sherpa’s to lead them through the mountains of regulations and tax provisions, to discover exemptions and special favors and other forms of relief or favoritism to improve the bottom line. And who better to act as Sherpa’s than the relatives of the Democrats who impose the regulations and tax provisions in the first place, who better than the lively proprietors of a family business operating in the luxurious and morally uncomplicated world of limousine liberals who dominate politics, culture, news, and finance.
Corporations give to Democratic politicians, avoiding the scrutiny of liberal attack dogs in the media and nonprofit sectors, and enjoying the ego boost that comes with being on the “right side of history.” Then those corporations hire the Podestas to get them out traps the Democrats have enacted into law. John’s innovation was to establish a corporate-funded think tank where the burdensome policies would be concocted, and whose staff would go on to man the regulatory agencies that put their wool-headed ideas into practice. And to whom do the corporations turn when they find themselves on the receiving end of all this uplift, all this do-goodery, all this progress, hope, and change? Why, to the man in the red Prada loafers, and to his flamboyantly patterned wife.
It was in 2009 that the Washington Post dubbed Heather Podesta the “It Girl in a new generation of young, highly connected, built-for-t....” The appellation was bestowed in a lengthy and fawning “Style” profile, which acted as a sort of advertisement for her lobbying firm. Heather Podesta lamented in the piece that the onrush of business, the peals from health insurance and green energy companies looking for special treatment under the new Democratic dispensation, had interfered with her and her husband’s international travel. Whereas they used to visit Venice up to a dozen times annually, Podesta said, “Now we only maybe get there six times a year.” The poor dears.
The next year, Tony gave a party to celebrate his wife Heather’s 40th birthday at their new showcase home. Like Elvis, with whom she shares a birthday, Heather Podesta, had “become a rock star in the Washington power scene as a top lobbyist.” There were red-velvet cupcakes. An Elvis impersonator gyrated for guests. Democratic Congressman John Larson and “Terry Lierman, chief of staff to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, took a tour of the provocative and sometimes whimsical artwork with Jane Oates, John O’Leary, Conrad Cafritz, and Hilary Rosen.” Also there was Jonathan Silver, “the Energy Department’s new money man,” who gave the American taxpayer Solyndra, and who coordinated strategy with John Podesta’s Center for American Progress.
If Heather Podesta has a flaw in the eyes of Washington it is that she is entirely too honest about the mechanics of lobbying. When she launched her independent company in 2007 it was with the slogan, “We know people.” Dianne Feinstein once canceled a fundraiser organized by the Podestas, the Post reported years ago, after she got wind that the invitation read as follows: “The prix fixe includes the Select Committee on Intelligence for the first course followed by your choice of Appropriations, Judiciary, or Rules Committees.”
Those winsome days have passed, however. The couple separated a month before Obama’s reelection. This “married couple who both lobbied” is sundered, revealing a political culture of pettiness and greed, and reminding us that there are few things as revolting, intellectually, morally, and ethically, as the “Washington power scene.”
Florida utilities’ lobbyists help raise your power bills
By William Patrick | Florida Watchdog
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Floridians, a portion of your utility bills are likely paying for a small army of utility company lobbyists to lean on state lawmakers for favorable energy policies — including higher bills.
That’s the implication of the political spending frenzy outlined in a new report by the nonpartisan government watchdog Integrity Florida.
The group’s findings are enough to make the average rate-paying customer blow a fuse.
According to the report, state officials have been catering to Florida’s four largest electric utility companies for years.
Florida Power and Light, Duke Energy (formerly Progress Energy), TECO Energy and Gulf Power have together spent more than $12 million lobbying the state since 2007 — spanning the governorships of both Charile Crist and Rick Scott.
Utility company campaign contributions tallied more than $18 million from 2004 to 2012. In that period, customer rates consistently increased and public officials routinely sided with agendas of the electricity firms.
“These four corporations registered, on average, one lobbyist for every two state legislators each legislative session between 2007 and 2013,” reads a statement accompanying the report.
“For the last five election cycles, these electric utilities were among the largest donors to state-level campaigns in Florida.”
The U.S. Energy Information Administration rates the average retail price of electricity in Florida at 11.78 cents per kilowatt hour as of January 2014. That’s above the 11.10-cent average for corresponding South Atlantic states, but well below the District of Columbia’s 12.59 cents per kilowatt hour. Florida’s residential customers pay the most of any other grouping.
Florida’s utility sector is a regulated monopoly that critics often say offers little in the way of competition.