Lobbyists wield enormous influence and, depending on your point of view, can bring positive or negative changes to our government. From reptile keepers to balloon enthusiasts, everyone has a constitutional right to petition government. The power some lobbyists hold over both parties in Congress and the White House is well documented. But what’s not well documented is how lobbyists play a role in the Democratic party’s nominating process.
As Libby Watson noted earlier this year, most delegates to the Democratic National Convention, held this year in Philadelphia, are allocated based on the vote share from primaries and caucuses held in individual states, territories and the District of Columbia. But there are also 712 so-called voting superdelegates. These individuals include former and current elected officials as well as members of the Democratic National Committee. Superdelegates can support whomever they choose and are not bound by any primary or caucus result.
And, as we found, some of the superdelegates also happen to be lobbyists for interests like big banks, payday lenders, health care insurers and unions.
Since February, Sunlight has pored over hundreds of names and affiliations of DNC superdelegates from all over the country. Our methodology included going state by state to the respective lobbying registration database, as well as using data from OpenSecrets.org, to see if an individual was ever registered as a federal or state lobbyist.
At least 63 superdelegates have registered as a lobbyist at the federal level or state level at some point. (Note: As we documented in our state lobbying report card, some states keep poor records of lobbying, so some information may be out of date.)
Those include some pretty big names, such as former Democratic Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell — who used to lead DLA Piper, a law and lobbying firm — and former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, who was a registered lobbyist working for Ballard Spahr LLP on telecommunications and health issues as recently as 2012. Richard Gephardt, the former House minority leader, is also a registered lobbyist on behalf of a firm that shares his namesake, the Gephardt Group.
Some other notable lobbyist superdelegates:
- Donald L. Fowler is a former Democratic National Committee chair who was a registered lobbyist for the S.C. Credit Union in South Carolina in 2009.
- Alexis Tameron was registered to lobby for American Traffic Solutions in Arizona in 2011.
- Joyce Brayboy is a lobbyist for Goldman Sachs, most recently registered in 2015.
- Steve Grossman, a former president of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and now a federal lobbyist for HPS Inc. working on issues related to the budget.
By our count, 28 states and D.C. had at least one superdelegate who was at one time a registered lobbyist on the federal or state level. Thanks to K Street, the District of Columbia, unsurprisingly, had the most – a total of eight registered lobbyist superdelegates. Union lobbyists were also well represented among the superdelegates, totaling at least 11, mostly at the state level.
The issues that lobbyists represent are vast and reflect the Democrats’ big tent policy approach. They range from marriage equality to reproductive health to banking to traffic cameras to education, and some foreign governments like Pakistan, who as recently as 2010 were represented by Roy Temple, a superdelegate who worked for Cassidy and Associates.
And then there is Andres Ramirez, a superdelegate from Nevada. According to disclosure documents from the Nevada legislature, as recently as 2015 Ramirez represented a company called Community Loans of America Inc., which is the parent company of several payday and title loan lenders.
Sunlight’s research found that 32 superdelegates have job titles that are either identical or similar to a lobbyist, or work in public relations or advocacy for an organization that participates in lobbying and related activity.
This includes people like former Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd, who now serves as the CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). The movie industry employs several registered lobbyists on behalf of the MPAA but Dodd is not currently registered.
Howard Dean, a former governor from Vermont and DNC chair, also falls in this category. He is a superdelegate and senior adviser to the public policy and regulation practice of Dentons, a powerhouse law firm with a reach on both sides of the aisle.
Other superdelegates who participate in activity similar or related to lobbying but are not registered, include Jennifer McClellan, a member of the Virginia House of Delegates. McClellan also works for Verizon as assistant general counsel, “focusing on state regulatory matters” for states.
Boyd Brown of South Carolina runs Resurgens, a government relations (lobbying) firm in South Carolina. The firm’s site says they “bring a concept to lobbying that the rest of the Statehouse lobby does not: countless personal relationships with the House and Senate memberships, state agency contacts and a deep understanding of how things get done inside the South Carolina General Assembly.” Also, Joanne Dowdell is a senior vice president of global government affairs for News Corp, and is similarly not registered as best we could find from federal lobbying registrations.
- Alice Huffman, a superdelegate from California, is the president of AC Public Affairs, which offers “public affairs,” “public policy advocacy” and “building opinion leader support.”
- Maria Echaveste, also from California, works for NGV LLC, which does “executive branch advocacy” and “legislative strategy.”
- Three staffers for the Dewey Square Group are among the superdelegates; though none are lobbyists, the firm was registered to lobby on behalf of clients as recently as 2014.
Then there are even others who don’t really fall into any category, like former President Bill Clinton or Vice President Al Gore. Or donors like Laura Ricketts who is a co-owner of the Chicago Cubs. (In an ideological split, her father, Joe Ricketts, is a GOP megadonor.) Or former Speaker of the New York State Assembly Sheldon Silver, who was a superdelegate until he resigned in March after he was convicted of fraud, money laundering and extortion.
The DNC Rules Committee recently voted to create a commission to study the issue of superdelegates and its role in the Democratic nominating contest. This happened before in 2008, and afterward the party rebuffed the idea of reforming or altering the superdelegate process. It remains to be seen just what the Democratic party will do around the issue of superdelegates, but Sunlight will continue to track how lobbyists and others try to influence politics.