October 12, 2015

Group Holding Bipartisan Presidential Debate Today is Dominated by Corporate Lobbyists


The non-profit group No Labels held an unusual candidate forum this morning in New Hampshire. The “No Labels Problem Solver Convention” featured five Republicans plus three Democrats — including Donald Trump, Chris Christie, John Kasich, Bernie Sanders, and Martin O’Malley — all at the same event.

No Labels has been organizing on the ground in primary states, and the group’s pitch is appealing: putting America’s progress ahead of partisanship. It’s true — with a closely divided electorate, we can’t get things done without bipartisan cooperation. This morning, No Labels co-chair Jon Huntsman, Jr. (R), the former Utah governor, explained the group’s viewpoint this way: “We’re tired of single issue, special interest grandstanding.”

But the list of notables affiliated with No Labels is, in fact, dominated by former politicians and other prominent people who now earn their living lobbying in Washington on behalf of special interests, mostly wealthy corporations that seek to dominate policy outcomes.

I don’t doubt that these individuals would like to see effective bipartisan solutions to our biggest problems.  But, as with No Labels’ frumpier older cousin, the Bipartisan Policy Center, the presence of so many lobbyists in prominent roles raises questions about the motivations and direction of the group, about whether these bipartisan, no labels solutions might just mean more advantages for the wealthy.

I hope not, but look at the leaders of No Labels:

  • No Labels co-chair Joe Lieberman (D), the former Connecticut Senator who also spoke at today’s forum, expressly promised before leaving office that he would not become a lobbyist.  The very next year, 2013, Lieberman, joined the Washington office of the law firm where his former chief of staff had set up a lobbying practice, and he registered as a foreign agent representing a Libyan politician. Lieberman’s biography on the law firm website boasts that he now advises corporate clients “on a wide range of public policy, strategic and regulatory issues.” Lieberman is a lobbyist.
  • John Engler (R), former governor of Michigan, was yet another ex-politician who spoke at today’s event, as the actual 2016 candidates cooled their heels.  Engler’s day job is president of the Business Roundtable, where he lobbies and hires numerous powerhouse DC lobbying firms to push the interests of corporations in Washington.
  • Former Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-TX), now works for the law firm Bracewell & Giuliani, where she assists companies in the energy and financial services sectors. Although Hutchinson is not formally registered as a lobbyist, Bracewell, which includes former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, has a major DC lobbying practice, representing electrical utilities, oil and gas, and other companies, and leads the attack on President Obama’s plan to fight global warming by tightening pollution standards for power plants.  Hutchinson also is on the “International Advisory Board” of FleishmanHillard, a large corporate public relations and “public affairs” firm.
  • Senator Evan Bayh (D-IN) in announcing his retirement from Congress in 2010, attacked money in politics, advocating for “legislation to enhance disclosure requirements, require corporate donors to appear in the political ads they finance and prohibit government contractors or bailout beneficiaries from spending money on political campaigns.”  The next year, Bayh joined the large law firm McGuire Woods, where “Principal clients served from our Washington office include national energy companies, foreign countries, international manufacturing companies, trade associations and local and national businesses.” Bayh also became a senior adviser to Apollo Global Management, a big New York private equity firm.
  • Former Representative Dick Gephardt (D-MO) is a lobbyist who has represented, among others, Goldman Sachs, Boeing, faltering, climate-denying coal company Peabody Energy, and Corinthian Colleges, the worst-of-the-worst predatory for-profit college company that collapsed this year amid a slew of law enforcement investigations.

It’s a holiday, and I have to be someplace, so I will stop there, but there are others on the No Labels roster who earn their living advancing the agendas of corporations.  Look them up.

This article also appears on Huffington Post.