By Brody Mullins ROLL CALL STAFF Rep. Joe Barton’s (R-Texas) ascent to the chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee earlier this year delivered an important victory to several causes that the 10-term lawmaker has championed during his time on Capitol Hill.
Cement-makers in Barton’s suburban Dallas-based district should remain protected from stringent environmental regulations. Texas oil and gas refiners will have another powerful ally as they work to head off lawsuits stemming from their fuel additives. And Barton will energize a decade-long fight to restructure the nation’s antiquated electricity networks.
But no one may stand to gain more from Barton’s chairmanship than a man who is one of his most trusted aides: Jeff MacKinnon.
“He’s definitely well positioned,” said Drew Maloney, a Republican lobbyist with the Federalist Group who has worked with MacKinnon.
MacKinnon, a lobbyist with Ryan, Phillips, Utrecht & MacKinnon, has been one of Barton’s top advisers during the decade he worked for Barton as an aide on the Hill and in the decade since he moved his operations to K Street.
During that time, MacKinnon has helped guide his former boss from a backbencher on the Energy and Commerce Committee to the chairmanship of its powerful energy and air quality subcommittee and ultimately to the helm of the full panel after Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.) stepped down earlier this year.
MacKinnon has served as the treasurer of Barton’s fundraising committee, his chief outside fundraiser when Barton was tapped to hold the House Republicans’ top event of the year and, most recently, the head of the informal steering committee that helped make Barton chairman.
Though Barton was the second-ranking Republican on the Energy and Commerce Committee behind 73-year-old Rep. Mike Bilirakis of Florida, installing Barton as committee chairman without opposition was no small task.
Barton is somewhat of a maverick and has occasionally clashed with the House leadership, even though he was elected in 1984 in the same Texas class as current Majority Leader Tom DeLay and former Majority Leader Dick Armey.
Making the job more difficult was the fact that the GOP leadership has shown that it is not afraid to pluck new committee chairmen from far down the seniority chain, such as when Republicans tapped Rep. Richard Pombo (R-Calif.) to head the Resources Committee this year even though he ranked behind a half-dozen other qualified Republicans.
But MacKinnon led a team of Barton allies on Capitol Hill and K Street who worked to soften Barton’s image and persuade Republican leaders that he would be a loyal committee chairman.
In late February, when the House Republican leadership tapped Barton to succeed Tauzin, MacKinnon instantly became one of the most sought-after lobbyists on K Street.
“Barton is going to be open to visits from all sorts of people, but in my experience with him, he will put a higher standard on his former people than the average Joe,” said one K Street lobbyist. “Jeff will be able to market that fairly well. In fact, of all the former Barton people out there, he will market that better than any of them.”
MacKinnon did not grow up in Texas, but landed in his office after graduating from Radford University in 1985 and taking his résumé door-to-door on Capitol Hill, working his way through an alphabetical list of freshman Republicans.
“Then I got to the Bs,” said MacKinnon, in an interview shortly after Barton claimed the committee gavel.
“It was a couple of years before Barton realized that I wasn’t from Texas,” MacKinnon joked. “I guess I spoke a little too fast.”
MacKinnon left Capitol Hill in 1993 to lobby for the Interstate Natural Gas Association. But when Republicans took over Congress in 1995, MacKinnon joined Democratic lobbying firm Oldaker, Ryan and Leonard.
“We were looking for a rising star who had a lot of credibility with the Republicans,” said Tom Ryan, a partner at the firm and former top aide to Energy and Commerce ranking member John Dingell (D-Mich.).
After William Oldaker, a Democratic campaign finance lawyer, and Rob Leonard, a top tax aide to former Ways and Means Chairman Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.), left the firm, it was renamed Ryan, Phillips, Utrecht & MacKinnon.
Today, the firm is one of Washington’s top shops, pulling in $5.4 million in lobbying revenues from more than two dozen clients, a $1 million increase from its take in 2000.
Most of their work is done in the House Energy and Commerce Committee, the domain of MacKinnon’s and Ryan’s former bosses.
Another partner, William Phillips, is a former aide to Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), the current chairman of the Appropriations Committee who plans to take over the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee next year.
Because the House and Senate commerce panels have far-reaching jurisdiction over business issues, the firm’s client list spans U.S. industry, from telecommunications firms such as MCI and Comcast Corp. to energy companies Reliant and Duke Energy to the trade associations for the pharmaceutical and airline industries. Since it became clear that Barton would become the new committee chairman, the firm has signed contracts with a few more firms, including Motorola, Japanese cellphone-maker NTT CoCoMo USA, Hydro Co. and the Coalition for Fair & Affordable Lending.
“We do seem more popular and smarter than we were a few months ago, but we all know how fickle and fleeting Washington can be,” MacKinnon said.
Barton’s rise to power on Capitol Hill has helped MacKinnon’s firm in another way.
The firm’s fourth partner, campaign finance lawyer Lyn Utrecht, does the books for Barton’s leadership PAC, the Texas Freedom Fund.
The treasurer of Barton’s Texas Freedom Fund: Jeff MacKinnon.