Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Podesta Watch: Mother's Milk, Appreciation and CIRM

Lobbyist Tony Podesta, CIRM's man in Washington, garnered some headlines this month with a stunning financial performance, heavy duty fundraising and even a note on his delinquent property taxes.

Podesta is being labelled a “king of K Street” and a powerhouse. He could be on his way to lobbying superstar status. Podesta knows the truth of the axiom that money is the mother's milk of politics. He conducts weekly fundraisers at his home. “People appreciate the fact that you have given of yourself,” he says.

His firm, the Podesta Group, is earning $240,000 for 10 months of work for the California stem cell agency. But the CIRM contract is piddling compared to the performance of his business.

Zachary Abrahamson
of reported that the Podesta Group took in $11.6 million for the first half of this year, a 57 percent increase from the same period last year.

One reason is the family name. Chris Frates, also of, reported,
“Lobbyist Tony Podesta has a long history in Democratic politics and is a prodigious fundraiser. His wife, Heather, is a powerhouse lobbyist in her own right. Tony’s brother, John — a co-founder of their namesake lobbying firm — was the co-chairman of the Obama transition and is the founder and president of the Center for American Progress, which many people credit with crafting much of the Obama administration’s policy blueprints and staffing its ranks.

“With a pedigree like that, it’s no surprise that Tony Podesta’s lobbying firm has emerged as a king of K Street.”
Podesta told Frates,
“You meet people in the middle of political campaigns, and they appreciate the fact that you’ve given of yourself to get them elected. I’ve helped a lot of the folks who are in Congress politically, and helped them in many ways, and that’s a thing which people are grateful about.”
Kevin Bogardus of wrote that Podesta, “has bundled campaign contributions for several powerful Democratic lawmakers over the first six months of the year,” including “donations of close to $100,000 on behalf of Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC).”

Andrew Miga of The Associated Press, reported that Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., one of key players on health care, was a Podesta beneficiary. Miga wrote,
“Anthony Podesta, one of Washington's best-known Democratic lobbyists, contributed $500 (to Dodd). The Alliance for Quality Nursing Home Care paid Podesta's firm, the Podesta Group, $120,000 for the quarter.

“Podesta's wife, Heather Podesta, hosted a $1,000 per person fundraiser in March for Dodd at the Podestas' home in the affluent Woodley Park neighborhood of Washington.

“Her firm, Heather Podesta + Partners, was paid $50,000 this year by HealthSouth Corp., one of the country's largest health care service providers.”
Earlier this month, Arthur Delaney of the Huffington Post wanted to take a first-hand look at a $1,000-a-plate Podesta fundraiser. The Podestas declined even to allow him to bus the dirty dishes and booted him from the premises of their 6,600-square-foot house.

As for the home, the Huffington Post carried this headline on one item: “Lobbyist Tony Podesta Among Delinquent Property Owners In D.C."

The reference was to a Washington Examiner story by Michael Neibauer in which he reported that Podesta owed paid only $33,935 of his $34,483 property tax bill, a shortfall of $696.32. Podesta was quoted as saying,
“We don’t even pay the taxes. They’re paid by the bank. If they sell my house, I’m going to sue the bank.”
It is unusual for a state agency to have a lobbyist in Washington, although the governor's office does have a staffer in the capital to watch out for statewide issues. Some CIRM directors have expressed reservations about CIRM's lobbying efforts, suggesting that it is an exercise in hubris and a bit of mission creep.

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