June 4, 2012

Exclusive: Senator Marco Rubio’s Chief of Staff Maintains Financial Ties To Lobbying Firm

Exclusive: Senator Marco Rubio's Chief of Staff Maintains Financial Ties To Lobbying Firm
Cesar Conda, Senator Marco Rubio's (R-FL) chief of staff, continues to maintain financial ties to a corporate lobbying firm

Lobbyists, hoping to persuade lawmakers and their staffs on any number of important issues, breeze in and out of the halls of the Capitol every day. But a growing trend that has alarmed ethics experts is the extent to which influence peddlers have burrowed into government to take jobs that place them in positions of power. A stunning example of this phenomenon is Senator Marco Rubio’s right-hand man.

Rubio is often touted by the press as a young, fresh face for the Republican Party. But as soon as he took the oath of office in January of 2011, he hired an experienced Washington corporate operative as his chief of staff, Cesar Conda.

Conda, a former aide to Dick Cheney in the first term of the Bush administration and a former analyst for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, helped found Navigators Global, a lobbying firm with offices in D.C. and Sacramento, in 2003. There, he helped a multitude of corporate clients, ranging from Oracle Corporation to PG&E to CitiGroup, with advancing their interests before the federal government, including Congress.

Conda left Navigators Global in January of 2011 only days before being tapped as Rubio’s chief of staff, the most influential non-elected position in a congressional office. But the relationship with Navigators Global, which continues to lobby Congress for at least 16 different clients — including private prison powerhouse GEO Group, New York Life Insurance, and UPS — didn’t end.

Republic Report reviewed Conda’s latest personal finance disclosure, filed last month with the Senate clerk’s office, which reveals that he received between $50,000 to $100,000 in payments from Navigators Global after becoming a public servant under Rubio. The disclosure shows thats Conda continues to own a stake in his old lobbying firm, and that he continues to share in the firm’s financial success. View a copy of the form below:

[scribd id=95860317 key=key-2h05v8f1ecx36lfzlmim mode=list]

Craig Holman, a lobbying and congressional ethics scholar with Public Citizen, explained that Conda’s recruitment as Rubio’s chief of staff suggests that Rubio is a double-edged sword. In one sense, Rubio gains Conda’s access to corporate fundraising and “expertise on business-as-usual on the Hill,” Holman notes. In another, Conda provides his lobbying firm and its clients with “instant access inside the Senate.”

“The ongoing financial relationship with the lobbying firm shows that Conda has not severed ties to his corporate clients while working in Congress,” Holman told Republic Report. “If Conda performs well for his former employer and clients, he will be looking at a very lucrative lobbying contract when he leaves Congress,” he added.

The number of lawmakers who hire lobbyists to help run their congressional offices is rising. At least thirteen freshmen Republicans hired professional influence peddlers as chiefs of staff last year. Congressman Frank Lucas, chair of the House Agriculture Committee, which has jurisdiction over commodity speculation, hired a lobbyist in charge of “trying to kill” financial reforms as his chief staffer. And in the Senate, Democrat Tim Johnson of South Dakota hired a former J.P. Morgan lobbyist to help manage his staff as he took the reins of the Banking Committee. Senator Ron Johnson, a Tea Party Republican elected in 2010, picked Don Kent, a lobbyist from the same firm as Cesar Conda, Navigators Global, as his chief of staff.

Rubio’s ties to K Street are extensive. His deputy chief of staff, Sally Canfield, is a former lobbyist for Sanofi-Aventis, a French drug company. A database of fundraisers provided by the Sunlight Foundation shows a number of lobbyist receptions organized on Rubio’s behalf.

Alex Conant, Rubio’s press secretary, says the arrangement between Conda and his lobbying firm was “cleared by Senate Ethics back in 2011.” “Cesar had a stock buy out of his ownership units when he left, which is being paid out over time,” Conant wrote to Republic Report.

What sets Rubio’s office apart is Conda’s continued financial relationship with his lobbying firm. While many lobbyists tunnel deep into the upper echelons of government, most at least severe overt ties with their former clients. In Rubio’s case, his chief of staff still has an umbilical cord attached to K Street.