After years of lobbying, Tom Daschle finally registers as a lobbyist

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Tom Daschle. (Photo credit: Ralph Alswang at the Center for American Progress/Flickr)

After 10 years of “policy advising,” “strategic consulting” and “government affairs” work, Tom Daschle is finally registering as an out-and-out lobbyist.

According to a filing first spotted by Politico’s Isaac Arnsdorf, Daschle will be lobbying on behalf of the health care company Aetna, specifically related to Medicare/Medicaid and health issues, Daschle’s specialty. The documents also show the former senator is heading up his own firm, The Daschle Group, as a policy arm of the law offices of Baker Donelson.

Daschle’s transformation from influence peddler to registered influence peddler is notable because he largely laid the blueprint for shadow lobbying in Washington. After losing his Senate seat in 2004, Daschle swung through the revolving door by joining Alston and Bird, a lobbying firm whose clients include a who’s who of health care interests. While there, Daschle acted as a “resource” to the president and other White House officials, advising clients “about the personalities of his former colleagues, as well as strategies to achieve their policy goals.”

In 2009, he moved on to a bigger firm with an international scope, DLA Piper, where he acted as “strategic counsel” to a wide range of blue-chip corporate clients. There his portfolio included work on financial services, telecommunications, trade, tax — and healthcare, of course. (In fact, Aetna was a client of DLA Piper while Daschle was employed there.) Following this stint, he hopped a few blocks down K Street to Baker Donelson, where he remains today.

But you wouldn’t find any of this activity in public documents. How did he avoid registering after all of this “government affairs” work? Daschle’s claim that he’s not a lobbyist rests upon lax disclosure laws, an escape clause of sorts that some have dubbed to be “the Daschle Loophole.”

While lobbyists are supposed to register with Congress and file consistent reports that reveal certain aspects of their client work — such as which issues they are focusing on and which lawmakers they are meeting with — anyone who’s spent less than 20 percent of their time lobbying for a single client over three months doesn’t have to register as a lobbyist. Furthermore, by claiming to avoid direct contact with lawmakers on behalf of his clients, Daschle is not legally obligated to register as a lobbyist — even if his work for them would generally fall within the definition of “lobbying activity.” By adhering to these guidelines, Daschle has been able to keep his work for these lobbying giants in the dark — now a well-trodden path for other ex-lawmakers who wish to cash out on K Street.

For the greater part of this decade, we here at Sunlight have written about Daschle’s work as an unregistered influencer. To give you some perspective of how long this has been going on, here’s a sample of the pieces we’ve written over the years where Daschle’s name has repeatedly come up as an example of nondisclosed lobbyist:

  • 2009: Examining Daschle’s role as a stealth lobbyist after joining DLA Piper.
  • 2009: Daschle and Bob Dole release a health care plan, but not the health care clients of their law firm.
  • 2011: How the current (and flawed) lobbying disclosure threshold helps the most wealthy and most powerful dodge and deal in Washington.
  • 2012: How closing lobbyist loopholes that Daschle utilizes would improve the accountability of the influence industry.
  • 2013: How Daschle’s been able to make millions for giving “tips” about lawmakers to lobbying clients.
  • 2014: How Daschle’s enduring role as an ex-senator has powered his shadowy influence career.
  • 2015: Daschle’s role in shaping the Trans Pacific Partnership.

As we’ve documented, Daschle has long been the poster child for important influencers in Washington who don’t register as lobbyists. He once told The New York Times, “I’m very proud of the fact that I’ve drawn a very hard line with regard to advocacy on the Hill. I’ve not made a call nor made a visit since I left the Senate on behalf of a client. And I don’t have any expectation that I’ll do that in the future.” It seems that is finally coming to end.