Sunday, August 02, 2009

The Podesta Watch: Public Health Care Option and Loans to College Students

Tony Podesta, the “legendary Democratic fundraiser” who is now CIRM's go-to guy in Washington, made the news during the last few days for roles in connection with the public option in the national health care legislation and aiding Sallie Mae, the nation's largest provider of student loans.

Podesta, who is under a $240,000, 10-month lobbying contract with the California state agency, was mentioned on the nationally broadcast PBS program, Bill Moyer's Journal, on Friday. The program was a scathing look at lobbying efforts by the health insurance industry against the public option in national health care reform legislation. On Thursday, CIRM directors will be asked to endorse the public option.

The guest on the Moyers' program was Wendell Potter, a former health insurance executive who is now an advocate for health care reform.

Here is how the Podesta's name came up, according to the transcript:

Moyers:
"I mean, they (former Congressional staffers) left the government. They go to work for the industry. Now they're back with an insider status. They get an access, right?"
Potter:
“Oh, they do, they do. And these lobbyists' ability to raise money for these folks also is very important as well. Lobbyists, many of the big lobbyists contributed a lot of money themselves. One of the lobbyists for one of the big health insurance company is Heather Podesta, the Podesta Group, and she's married to Tony Podesta, who's a brother of John Podesta.”
Moyers:
“Who used to be the White House chief of staff."
Potter:
“Right. Right. And they're Democrats. And my executives wanted to meet with — and when I say my, the people I used to work for-- “
Moyers:
“At CIGNA.”
Potter:
“Yeah, wanted to meet with Hillary Clinton, when she was still in the Senate and still a candidate for president. Well, that's hard to do. That's hard to pull off, but she did. That just shows you that you can, through the relationships that are formed and that the insurance industry pays for, by hiring these lobbyists, you can your foot in the door. You can get your messages across to these people, in ways that the average American couldn't possibly.”
Danielle Knight, in a special report to the Huffington Post Investigative Fund, mentioned the Podesta Group in a piece headlined, “Lobbying Showdown Over The Future Of Student Loans." The article discussed Sallie Mae's efforts to position itself as the “clear winner” in multibillion dollar fight over the private student loan industry. Knight wrote that in March,
“(S)allie Mae retained the Podesta Group, founded by Tony Podesta, a legendary Democratic fundraiser whose brother headed the Obama transition team. In addition to Podesta himself, the firm, which was paid $110,000 for its work in the first half of the year, assigned at least four of its lobbyists to push Sallie Mae's case on Capitol Hill: Paul Brathwaite, the former executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus and a former Clinton Labor Department official; Israel 'Izzy' Klein, a former aide to Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York and Rep. Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts, both Democrats; Lauren Maddox, a former assistant secretary for communications and outreach at the Education Department in the Bush administration; and Donni Turner, a former aide to Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois, Rep. David Scott of Georgia, and former Sen. Max Cleland of Georgia, all of them Democrats.”
Linda Stamato of nj.com also mentioned Podesta in connection with Sallie Mae. Sphere: Related Content

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