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The lobbyists: Roll Call’s people to watch in 2019

Are they worried the new Congress will make war on K Street? Do they look worried?

Michael Williams, a longtime banking and finance policy lobbyist, aims to bridge the divide between progressives and his clients. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Michael Williams, a longtime banking and finance policy lobbyist, aims to bridge the divide between progressives and his clients. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

President Donald Trump looms large on almost every important issue, but it won’t be all about him for some individuals on Roll Call’s list of People to Watch in 2019. 

The financial sector will be learning to survive a less business-friendly environment in the House, and a longtime Democratic lobbyist is well-positioned to lend a hand.

Tech companies face a host of issues related to privacy and cybersecurity on a global scale, which means one of their top trade associations in Washington will be leaning heavily on a veteran of regulatory environments in Europe, Canada and the United States for help.

Michael Williams

By Kate Ackley

The House Financial Services Committee during the 116th Congress promises to be as star-studded as a congressional panel can get.

With California Democrat Maxine Waters holding the gavel and freshman Democratic phenom Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez gaining a spot, many of the banks, insurance companies and housing interests under the committee’s purview expect the action to be mostly at their expense.

Enter Mike Williams.

The longtime banking and finance policy lobbyist — whose first gig in Washington was serving as a congressional liaison in the Clinton White House — says he’s aiming to bridge the divide between progressives like Waters and New York’s Ocasio-Cortez, who has railed against income inequality and big Wall Street outfits, and his clients.

“There’s a lot of fear and consternation about the committee and what’s going to happen,” says Williams, 47, who adds that Waters is “pragmatic” and knows the panel’s issues thoroughly, having served on it since 1991.

“She is a professional,” he says of the new chairwoman. “I try to tell my clients, a little sunshine never hurt anybody. If she’s taking a look at some of these issues, rather than recoil at that, you should actually lean into that and talk about the programs you’re engaged in that she and other members may not know about.”

The panel also may scrutinize racial and other diversity in the nation’s biggest financial institutions as well as in their lending practices. Diversity in hiring, including on K Street and Capitol Hill, is something Williams says is important to him — personally and professionally.

Waters pushed for provisions in the Dodd-Frank financial regulatory overhaul of 2010 that aimed to promote diversity and inclusion programs at institutions that got a federal bailout in the economic crisis.

“Let’s have these conversations; those are going to be uncomfortable,” says Williams, who is originally from the Bronx. “She put those provisions in Dodd-Frank. She worked on them, and she still has the scars from people saying, ‘I can’t believe you would do that.’”

Williams’ recent clients at the Williams Group, the shop he founded on the cusp of the 113th Congress, include the insurance company Metropolitan Life, Delta Air Lines, General Motors and consumer credit reporting firm TransUnion, among others. He has disclosed lobbying on such matters as the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization and data privacy.

His firm’s lobbying revenue, as reported under the Lobbying Disclosure Act, has been on the rise — even in 2018 during all-GOP control of the federal government. In 2017, his firm reported revenue of $270,000. Last year, it had more than doubled to $625,000.

He says business is already up this year with his party in control of the House.

Williams’ job in the White House helped determine the focus of his career path. There he concentrated on financial services, tax and trade matters. He later moved to the Bond Market Association and its successor, the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association. After spending five years as an in-house lobbyist with the bank Credit Suisse, Williams set up his own shop in December 2012.

He’s not concerned about the anti-lobbyist, anti-corporate positions of some of the panel’s newest members, such as Ocasio-Cortez and Massachusetts freshman Democrat Ayanna S. Pressley.

“I’ve heard that many times over the two decades I’ve been doing this — people come in and say, ‘We don’t want to hear from you’ or ‘We don’t want your campaign contributions,’” Williams says. “My experience has been, I’ve never been precluded from coming into someone’s office and having a conversation. They may not take my [campaign] money, which is fine.”

In addition to his own firm, Williams also has joined with other lobbyists, including those with connections to Republicans, in forming United By Interest, a lobbying outfit focused on bringing together the most conservative lawmakers and their most progressive colleagues primarily in the Congressional Black Caucus and Congressional Hispanic Caucus. The firm represents the American Petroleum Institute, the lobby for oil and natural gas interests.

The goal of United By Interest is to “close the economic advantage gap, and that cuts across party, and that cuts across race,” Williams says.

When he and his UBI partners looked at the 100 poorest congressional districts, they found they were almost evenly divided among members of the hard-line conservative Freedom Caucus and lawmakers in the Black and Hispanic caucuses.

“If you can get those three disparate caucuses to work together, you can get a majority in the House, at a minimum,” he says of the potential for policy breakthroughs.

Though that remains a tough obstacle amid deepening partisan divides and stalemate on Capitol Hill, Williams’ UBI partner — Republican lobbyist Sam Geduldig — says the Clinton administration alum is a pivotal part of the effort.

“The best compliment I can give another lobbyist is that I would hate to work against them,” says Geduldig, who worked for House Republican leaders on Capitol Hill and is also a partner in the CGCN Group. “I absolutely never want to be opposite Mike.”


Carroll (Courtesy Center for Strategic & International Studies)
Mèlika Carroll, lobbyist, the Internet Association. (Courtesy Center for Strategic & International Studies)

Mèlika Carroll

By Gopal Ratnam

Mèlika Carroll has a unique resume among technology lobbyists in Washington: Not only has she worked for Congress and technology companies, she began her career working for a Canadian prime minister and later dealt with European regulatory affairs for Intel Corp.

As senior vice president of global affairs at the Internet Association, a trade group that represents about 45 online companies including Google, Amazon and Salesforce, Carroll expects to play a key role in shaping federal data privacy legislation, which is likely to be one of the top bipartisan agenda items for the 116th Congress.

“The moment is now for a lot of reasons,” Carroll says about the timing of a federal data privacy bill. “Several bills were introduced in the last Congress by members from both sides of the aisle and there’s great energy, and we really hope we can get that across the finish line.”

Carroll previously worked for customer-management company Salesforce and semiconductor maker Micron Technology.

Reflecting on her experience working with the European Union, Canada and then the United States, Carroll says Europeans tend to place greater emphasis on privacy because of their political history and culture, whereas U.S. lawmakers and governments tend to emphasize innovation. “But the underlying goals are very similar,” she says, with governments wanting to safeguard their citizens while promoting economic growth.

Before joining the Internet Association in August 2017, Carroll was a policy adviser to Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii, the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee’s panel on Communications, Technology, Innovation and the Internet.

In December, Schatz introduced a measure backed by a group of 15 Democratic senators to require websites and app developers to protect user data, limit third-party use of data and require the Federal Trade Commission to impose fines for infractions.

The bill is among several possible vehicles for data privacy.

Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden has proposed legislation to establish minimum data protection standards, give consumers the choice to view what data is being collected from them, and impose fines of up to 4 percent of a company’s annual revenue for first-time offenses, and up to 20 years of criminal penalties for company executives for repeat offenses.

In the House, Democrats proposed several bills addressing consumer data protection but they gained little traction in the Republican-led 115th Congress. Democratic Reps. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois and Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey, along with 10 other Democrats, for example, proposed legislation requiring companies that collect consumers’ information to safeguard them and notify individuals in case of a breach. The House Energy and Commerce Committee on which they serve did not take up the measure.

GOP Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee in the previous Congress and now chair of the subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation and the Internet, has said Congress must act on federal data and privacy legislation.

The European Union in May began enforcing its General Data Protection Regulation, and California in June passed a privacy law that goes into effect in January 2020.

“These developments have all combined to put the issue of consumer data privacy squarely on Congress’ doorstep,” Thune said last year.

Crafting technology legislation presents unique challenges because consumer technology is so pervasive and affects all aspects of society, Carroll says.

“It is good to be able to have conversations now with political leaders who use technologies versus the 1990s, when the internet wasn’t as widespread,” Carroll says.

“Not every member has worked on an oil rig, but people have a personal connection with today’s technologies.”