It is well-established that Americans do not trust the federal government and believe that government itself is the nation’s top problem. Naturally, much of that ill-will is focused on Washington, D.C., with its partisan elected officials, inept bureaucrats, bloated government, corruption, and those influence-peddling Washington lobbyists.
The Podestas’ “lobbyist vs. lobbyist” divorce provides the perfect platform for the average American to justify why they harbor such negative feelings. At this writing, Tony and Heather Podesta, multi-millionaire owners of separate influential lobbying firms, are embroiled in a nasty separation with the curtains pulled back so they can both use the media to gain an edge in their divorce proceedings. The juicy court documents are truly a peek into elite life in Washington, and beautifully illustrate five reasons why Washington’s way of doing business is completely broken.
1. Washington lobbyists have excessive influence
Says Tony Podesta: “I see lobbying as getting information in the hands of people who are making decisions so they can make more informed decisions.”
On the surface this sounds rational. However, what Mr. Podesta neglects to say is “the people who are making the decisions” are beholden to lobbyists like him for campaign cash if they wish to still have jobs after the next election. “Informed decisions” are often unduly influenced by lobbyists, and that is precisely why lobbyists’ clients hire them in the first place. The system is a circular gourmet food chain.
2. Bigger government means all sectors of the economy need guide dogs that are sniffing for special treats
In order to deal with ever expansive, overcomplicated, and intrusive government, lobbyists are hired by their clients to seek favorable treatment, special exemptions, or relief from something. Then of course there is always a desire for a larger piece of the government pie with contracts or grants.
Sometimes lobbyists even have a hand in helping to write legislation, policy, and regulation while continually fueling Washington’s engines with campaign checks. Often in anticipation of a big pay period, the “buy your lobbyist a new vacation home” and “pay your kid’s tuition to Harvard” are pet names attached to complicated new regulations, policies, or legislation.
The system is not only a circular food chain, but a 24-hour all-you-can-eat buffet.
3. Lobbyists make millions while average Americans make $51,371
Tony’s firm earned $13.4 million in 2013, down from $54.8 million in the election year of 2012.
Heather’s firm earned $3.7 million in 2013, also down from 2012 when she earned $14.5 million. (Be sure to check out both their client lists.)
Thus, after 11 years of marriage, and charges of Heather’s unfaithfulness, their contentious divorce is centered on who gets the $5.6 million mansion in Washington, as well as homes in Virginia, Italy, and Australia. Then there is the “world famous” art collection with 1,300 pieces estimated to be worth hundreds of millions, in addition to the jewelry, investments, and both businesses with prestigious Fortune 500 clients. Most intriguing will be the valuing of the “Podesta brand” that Heather insists she helped build. Splitting these assets will buy the best divorce lawyers in the city their “new vacation homes.”
Lobbyists often receive five-figure monthly retainers from a single client, and they have numerous clients. While the median annual household income in the U.S. is $51,371, it is not unusual for a successful lobbyist to exceed that amount in one month. So while average Americans are struggling, lobbyists are comfortably in the “1%” bracket. (When they are Democrat lobbyists and fighting for the “little people,” that somehow seems okay.)
4. Washington connections mean access and influence for clients
For clients who need help navigating Washington’s minefields, the Podesta name opens finely appointed doors.
Tony Podesta has been a long-time, high-level Democrat operative and was counselor to Senator Ted Kennedy. In 1987, Tony and his brother John Podesta founded what was then called Podesta Associates. Then, the younger John went on to hold various high-ranking positions inside the Clinton White House, finally serving as President Clinton’s last chief of staff from 1998 until 2001.
Nothing attracts high-powered clients with large monthly retainers more than having a brother who is chief of staff to the president. So Tony Podesta became a leading Washington lobbyist/power-player/ fundraiser/donor, and built his personal brand as a Washington go-to-person.
In 2003 at the age of 59, Tony Podesta married a 33-year-old woman named Heather Miller who, according to Tony Podesta’s divorce filing, was making $55,000 a year. That was until Tony brought Heather into his high-powered lobbying orbit. In 2007, she started her own firm with the obnoxious slogan “We Know People,” playing off her husband’s and brother-in-law’s impressive connections. She quickly became Washington’s new lobbying “it girl” for the Obama era, according to a Washington Post 2009 puff piece.
And speaking of impressive connections, in January 2014 John Podesta became counselor and special advisor to President Obama. Landing back at the White House only helps solidify Podesta family power in general, and further empowers his liberal-leaning corporate funded think-tank Center for American Progress, which John Podesta started in 2003 as a counter to the conservative Heritage Foundation.
And what could be better for the Podesta family than Hillary 2016? In the world of Washington lobbying, it is whom you know and to whom you are related that provide the seeds and water for your personal money tree.
A friend of mine who is in the same Tony Podesta lobbying league told me: “Tony’s effective because he has raised tons of money for Democrats and because his brother (whom I have no use for) has direct access to the White House.”
5. Washington runs on money that buys power
As government grows, your taxes keep rising, corruption runs rampant, and lobbyists like the Podestas get richer by helping clients sort through the mayhem while giving back handily. (Tony’s firm contributed $1.2 million to campaigns in 2012.) But now come the public unraveling of the powerful Podesta brand, and the “who gets what” of the accumulated assets. My high-powered lobbyist friend also told me: “It was an example of an old fat guy marrying a younger woman. She bled him dry.” (That does seem to happen everywhere.)
The Washington media is loving all the dirty details of this Podesta vs. Podesta fight happening while brother John Podesta sits at the right hand of President Obama, formulating strategies for the Democrats’ 2014 midterm campaign theme — which ironically is fighting national income inequality. (Obviously God has a sense a humor.)
Meanwhile, Democrat political strategists must be cringing at how hypercritical this limousine liberal divorce must look outside the Beltway to voters making the median $51,000 national income, or who are unemployed.
A recent article appeared in The Hill about a new lobbying group being formed as a breakaway from an older, established firm. One of the comments caught my eye because it summed up all the reasons why the Podesta divorce is a microcosm of what is wrong with our line-your-pockets, ultra-rich lobbying culture. The comment read: “Yep the snakes/lobbyists smell money in the upcoming elections….and they want a piece of the pie….I am sure they don’t care if they screw the country….as long as they get their fair share.”
We know that Tony and Heather Podesta will fight to get theirs.