Demo­crat leg­is­la­tors pack fundraiser hosted by lob­by­ist power cou­ple

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY JIM MCELHATTON

De­spite Pres­i­dent Obama’s cam­paign pledge that the days of lob­by­ists set­ting the agenda in the na­tion’s cap­i­tal are over, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was dropped off in an al­ley and hus­tled into a rear door at the home of a prom­i­nent Wash­ing­ton lob­by­ing cou­ple who hosted a din­ner on the evening of March 9 to help raise cash for Democrats.

Asked if she had a minute to speak to a re­porter, Mrs. Pelosi, a Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat, said, “No, I re­ally don’t,” be­fore be­ing es­corted into the fundraiser through the rear en­trance of the $1.4 mil­lion Wood­ley Park home of Tony and Heather Podesta.

Mrs. Pelosi and other high­rank­ing Demo­cratic mem­bers of Congress were the big draw at the fundraiser, aside from what Mr. Podesta de­scribed as “sev­eral fab­u­lous celebrity chefs.”

He told The Wash­ing­ton Times out­side his home that the din­ner was an an­nual event held for the Demo­cratic Con­gres­sional Cam­paign Com­mit­tee (DCCC) — the fundrais­ing arm for House Democrats — and for a num­ber of the mem­bers of Congress.

Asked whether all the Obama anti-lob­by­ist rhetoric had put a chill on the evening, he said the din­ner was “at ca­pac­ity.

“We are filled,” he said dur­ing a friendly con­ver­sa­tion, adding that he and his wife had erected a tent in the back of the house be­cause of the num­ber of peo­ple ex­pected to at­tend.

Mr. Podesta also said the politi­cians, lob­by­ists and donors were not talk­ing busi­ness but about the food, which in­cluded braised lamb, ice cream, and home­made fudge for Mrs. Pelosi, an ad­mit­ted choco­holic.

An­other par­ty­goer was Rep. Henry A. Wax­man, Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat and chair­man of the Com­mit­tee on Over­sight and Gov­ern­ment Re­form, who ar­rived late and by him­self in his Toy­ota Camry. He asked a re­porter for di­rec­tions to the Podesta res­i­dence, say­ing this was the first time he had been in­vited to the Podestas’ home for the an­nual event.

“That’s why I’m at­tend­ing,” he said. “It’s a fundraiser for Democrats, and I’m a Demo­crat.”

When asked what’s dis­cussed at events at­tended by politi­cians, lob­by­ists and donors, he said, “It’s my first time, I don’t know.”

The in­vi­ta­tion, a copy of which was ob­tained by The Times from an in­vi­tee, promised a seated din­ner with a celebrity chef. And to get in the door of the lob­by­ists’ home, donors were ex­pected to

An­other par­ty­goer was Rep. Henry A. Wax­man, Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat and chair­man of the Com­mit­tee on Over­sight and Gov­ern­ment Re­form, who ar­rived late and by him­self in his Toy­ota Camry. He asked a re­porter for di­rec­tions to the Podesta res­i­dence, say­ing this was the first time he had been in­vited to the Podestas’ home for the an­nual event. When asked what’s dis­cussed at events at­tended by politi­cians, lob­by­ists and donors, he said, “It’s my first time, I don’t know.”

give $5,000 as guests, $15,000 as PAC sup­port­ers and $30,400 — the fed­eral max­i­mum to a com­mit­tee — to be a host.

The in­vi­ta­tion was sent out by Mrs. Podesta to raise money for the DCCC.

Mrs. Podesta is a well-known lob­by­ist in Wash­ing­ton, and her client list in­cludes pow­er­ful spe­cial in­ter­ests with a big fi­nan­cial stake on is­sues pend­ing in Congress.

Health­South, for ex­am­ple, stands to lose out on pos­si­ble Medi­care cut­backs, while Boe­ing stands to gain bil­lions of dol­lars in work in con­nec­tion with an Air Force tanker con­tract on which Mrs. Podesta has lob­bied, ac­cord­ing to records.

The food ser­vice com­pany Ara­mark hired her firm to mon­i­tor fed­eral nutri­tion poli­cies in­volv­ing the na­tional school lunch pro­gram.

Since Mr. Obama’s elec­tion, Mrs. Podesta has picked up sev­eral new clients, too, in­clud­ing Amer­i­can Air­lines, the News­pa­per As­so­ci­a­tion of Amer­ica, the Swiss Rein­sur­ance Com­pany and Friends of Can­cer Re­search.

Mr. Podesta founded the Podesta Group, a lob­by­ing and pub­lic-af­fairs firm based in Wash­ing­ton, in 1988 with his brother, John. The firm most re­cently re­or­ga­nized in Jan­uary 2007 af­ter Tony Podesta split with for­mer busi­ness part­ner Dan Mat­toon.

The Podesta Group rep­re­sents U.S. cor­po­ra­tions, as well as non­prof­its, as­so­ci­a­tions and gov­ern­ments. In 2008, the firm re­ported nearly $16 mil­lion in lob­by­ing in­come. In 2007, Tony Podesta was ranked by his peers as the third­most-in­flu­en­tial lob­by­ist in Wash­ing­ton.

The group’s clients in­clude Cin­tas, Ge­nen­tech, Gen­eral Dy­nam­ics, Heineken, Lock­heed Martin, Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Broad­cast­ers, No­var­tis Vaccines and Di­ag­nos­tics, Or­ange County, Fla., Re­new­able Fu­els As­so­ci­a­tion, Sunoco, TV Parental Guide­lines Mon­i­tor­ing Board, Tyco Elec­tron­ics and Wal-Mart.

John Podesta served as White House chief of staff in Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton’s sec­ond term.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE / GETTY IM­AGES

Never done any­thing like this be­fore: Rep. Henry Wax­man

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