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Emanuel Has His K Street Ties

As Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) prepares to become President-elect Obama’s chief of staff, he won’t just be taking his Rolodex of Capitol Hill contacts.

He will also have a number of K Street allies who expect to have a leg up lobbying a White House that has signaled it will keep influence peddlers at an arm’s length.

Emanuel’s downtown connections go back to the late 1980s, when he was a staffer at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. As national campaign director for the DCCC, Emanuel forged strong ties with staffers-turned-lobbyists, including Tom O’Donnell, the former chief of staff to Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) and now a lobbyist at the Gephardt Group, and Richard Bates, who lobbies for the Walt Disney Co.

“If you know Rahm, you know one thing: He can get things done,” Bates said.

Although both presidential campaigns have treated lobbyists as Washington, D.C., pariah, after the reality of governing sets in, Emanuel may look to tap into his network of trusted downtown allies in order to help pass what is expected to be increased regulations on the financial services industry and a major overhaul to the health care system and energy initiatives.

“I think he’s going to play it as smartly and as shrewdly as he always has,” one lobbyist close to the Illinois delegation said of Emanuel’s upcoming role in dealing with lobbyists while in the Obama administration.

His attitude is, “You have got to give a little bit to get a little bit,” the lobbyist said.

Emanuel’s K Street connections include several senior Clinton administration officials who he served with, including the Glover Park Group’s Joel Johnson and Joe Lockhart, Steve Ricchetti of Ricchetti Inc., and former Clinton political-director-turned-consultant Doug Sosnik.

Emanuel has also been known to consult with Democratic heavyweight Steve Elmendorf of Elmendorf Strategies, David Castagnetti of Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti and Tony Podesta of the Podesta Group, according to lobbyists.

Emanuel also has strong ties with former DCCC staffers who worked for him during the 2006 election cycle, including Alixandria Lapp of Parven Pomper Strategies Inc., Karin Johanson of Dewey Square Group and DCCC Executive Director Brian Wolff.

John Lapp, executive director of the DCCC during Emanuel’s tenure, says there is a “fierce loyalty” among people who used to work for the Democratic Caucus chairman.

“He’s a perfectionist of the first order,” said Lapp, a media consultant at McMahon Squier Lapp and Associates. “He expects perfection from himself and everyone around him, and he doesn’t accept anything else.”

Emanuel’s K Street connections are primarily among former colleagues and other lobbyists, not his former staffers.

Only two aides, Jonathan Hoganson and Robert Getzoff, have turned to lobbying. Hoganson, former legislative director and policy director at the House Democratic Caucus, is now at Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti.

Getzoff, who handled financial services and tax issues in Emanuel’s personal office, left to become vice president for federal government affairs at Citigroup Inc. just three weeks after Emanuel became the Caucus chairman.

Emanuel may also look to former aides of Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin (D), with whom Obama is very close. These include Jimmy Williams of Ogilvy Government Relations and Mark Keam of Verizon Communications Inc., among others.

Several lobbyists noted that while they might be called on to push the new president’s agenda downtown, the influence might not flow both ways.

“Rahm is indifferent to lobbying,” said one lobbyist who worked with Emanuel. “He’s interested in seeing the results he wants, whether it’s political strategy or on policy.”

And he’s not known for holding lots of meetings with K Street representatives, either, preferring instead to go straight to company chief executive officers for intel.

“His Rolodex is unbelievable,” one Democratic lobbyist said. “Rahm’s calling Wall Street and to LA. He’s calling outside the Beltway to get his finger on the pulse.

“He doesn’t call a lobbyist at a trade association,” the lobbyist added. “He calls up to the managing director of some firm to tell him what really goes on.”

Hoganson agrees. “He calls the person he has established a relationship with, usually a CEO or an industry person,” he said. “He works the phones like nobody else.”

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