More details on Podesta Group’s final days
With David Beavers and Garrett Ross
MORE DETAILS OF THE PODESTA GROUP’S LAST DAYS: A new disclosure filed with the Justice Department sheds a little more light on what happened at the Podesta Group last fall as the firm came apart. The disclosure, which details the firm’s foreign lobbying work in the last six months of 2017, was filed last week, more than three months after it was due. (Foreign agents are required to file reports on their activities every six months under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.) A spokeswoman for Tony Podesta declined to say why the disclosure was filed late.
Story Continued Below
— The disclosure shows that lobbying for the Podesta Group’s foreign clients ground to a halt around the time Paul Manafort and Rick Gates were indicted in October. (Tony Podesta announced he was stepping down hours after the release of the indictment, which accused Manafort and Gates of breaking U.S. law regarding lobbying for foreign clients as part of a campaign for which they hired the Podesta Group.) Podesta Group lobbyists held dozens of meetings and phone calls on behalf of the Azerbaijani government during the second half of last year, for instance, but activity abruptly ceased after a phone call with a staffer for Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.) on Nov. 6, according to the filing. Lobbying for Saudi Arabia’s Center for Studies and Media Affairs ceased on Oct. 23, as did work for the Hong Kong Trade Development Council on Oct. 11. Lobbying for the Indian government stopped on Sept. 29, and lobbying for the Japanese government stopped on Oct. 24. Lobbying for the Democratic Party of Moldova ceased on Sept. 12.
— Just because the lobbying stopped doesn’t mean the Podesta Group stopped getting paid, though. The Japanese government made a final payment of $48,000 to the firm on Dec. 15, a month after most Podesta lobbyists had been told to expect their last paycheck. Azerbaijan’s government paid nearly $78,000 a couple of days earlier. Other foreign clients, including the Democratic Party of Moldova, the Hong Kong Trade Development Council, the Indian government and the Saudi Center for Studies and Media Affairs, made their final payments in November. Despite its troubles, the firm brought in nearly $4.5 million in foreign lobbying revenue in the second half of the year.
Good afternoon, and welcome to PI. This newsletter has an insatiable hunger for tips. Tell us what’s happening out there: [email protected] and [email protected] You can also follow us on Twitter: @theodoricmeyer and @marianne_levine.
SUPREME COURT RULING A VICTORY FOR CASINO LOBBY: A Supreme Court ruling this morning struck down a federal law that barred most commercial sports betting, in a major victory for the casino lobby. “Today’s ruling makes it possible for states and sovereign tribal nations to give Americans what they want: an open, transparent, and responsible market for sports betting,” Geoff Freeman, the president and chief executive of the American Gaming Association, said in a statement. The association, which spent nearly $1.4 million on Washington lobbying last year, had filed an amicus brief in the case. Its outside lobbying firms include Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, Cornerstone Government Affairs, David Stewart, Fierce Government Relations, Hogan Lovells and Subject Matter.
U.S. SUGAR ADDS TWO: U.S. Sugar is bulking up its lobbying representation in Washington, hiring two more firms to represent it: Cornerstone Government Affairs and Crossroads Strategies. The company already retains Ballard Partners, Capitol Counsel, Davis & Harman and the S-3 Group, according to disclosure filings. Cornerstone and Crossroads have also represented the Florida Sugar Cane League, although Crossroads terminated its registration last month.
MORE DETAILS ON COHEN: The Wall Street Journal’s Rebecca Ballhaus, Peter Nicholas, Michael Rothfeld and Joe Palazzolo unearthed new details about how Michael Cohen wooed corporate America. “Mr. Cohen’s pitch was blunt. He would tell prospective clients — large corporations worried about their lack of connections to President Donald Trump’s administration — that he didn’t know who was advising them, but that the companies ‘should fire them all,’ a person familiar with Mr. Cohen’s approach said. ‘I have the best relationship with the president on the outside, and you need to hire me,’ Mr. Cohen told them, according to this person.”
— “Mr. Cohen repeatedly pitched Uber, which said no, citing Mr. Cohen’s ownership of New York taxi medallions as a potential conflict of interest with the ride-hailing firm, a person close to the company said. He modified his pitch in response to those objections, reminding the company he was ‘the president’s lawyer,’ this person said. The company, this person said, was ‘bemused.’” Cohen also pitched Ford, which decided not to hire him. Full story.
NRF STARTS FERRIS BUELLER AD TO PROTEST TARIFFS: The National Retail Federation is launching a six-figure ad buy today, in light of this week’s USTR hearings and NAFTA negotiations. The ad mimics a scene from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” in which the actor Ben Stein quizzes students about the Hawley-Smoot Tariff Act. In the NRF ad, Stein recreates the scene, telling students that tariffs are “B-A-D economics.” In an interview with PI, David French, the federation’s senior vice president of government relations, said the NRF “recognized [the scene] was right on message for communicating how much tariffs could hurt hard working American families” and produced the ad as a way of “finding a nontraditional way to speak to consumers and policymakers.”
— The ad will run all week during “Fox and Friends” on Fox News and “Morning Joe” on MSNBC in the Washington market, as well as during “Saturday Night Live.” The ad will also air in the Tulsa, Okla., market during the reincarnated “Roseanne.” “American families will pay tariffs, not Chinese businesses,” French said. “We hope the Chinese and the U.S. administration take the threat of a trade war seriously and work very hard to avoid it.” In addition to the ads, the NRF is launching a digital campaign urging the public to call members of Congress to protest retaliatory tariffs on China.
FORMER CONSULTANT TO FOR-PROFIT COLLEGE OPERATOR NOW WORKS IN THE WHITE HOUSE: There’s a K Street angle to Danielle Ivory, Erica Green and Steve Eder’s story in The New York Times on how the Education Department’s investigations into several for-profit college operators, including Bridgepoint Education, went dark. “Bridgepoint has a high-profile connection in the Trump administration beyond the Education Department: It is a former client of Mercedes Schlapp, who is now the director of strategic communications at the White House. Ms. Schlapp was a consultant for Bridgepoint at Cove Strategies, a lobbying and consulting firm she founded with her husband, Matt Schlapp. Bridgepoint said that it remained a Cove client.”
— “The White House did not say whether Ms. Schlapp had recused herself from issues involving Bridgepoint and did not respond to a request to interview her. Mr. Schlapp said in an email that ‘Bridgepoint and other online institutions were persecuted by President Obama’s administration because they dared to bring innovation to the education market.’” Full story.