In 1988, two enterprising brothers had an idea: Having served as aides for Democratic lawmakers and presidential candidates, the brothers would launch their own Washington lobbying firm.
Their knowledge of the process and their connections to top Democratic policymakers would be of immense value to their clients, and thus very enriching to the brothers.
Podesta Associates opened its doors in 1988, co-founded by John and Tony Podesta. The brothers didn’t merely hang out a shingle and rest on their laurels, though. They worked hard and spent years building the business. Over three decades, the Podesta firm would grow. John would leave and return and leave again. The name would change, from Podesta Associates, to Podesta Mattoon, to the Podesta Group.
On Monday, in a federal criminal indictment of Republican lobbyist and Trump aide Paul Manafort, special prosecutor Robert Mueller gave the Podesta brothers' firm a brand new name: “Company B.”
Using that pseudonym, the indictment explains that the Podesta Group represented the same Putin-allied and state-funded organization that Manafort did, at the same time. And the Podesta Group, like Manafort, also apparently failed to disclose its lobbying properly. In the aftermath, Tony has stepped down from the firm that he and his brother John spent decades building up.
Over the years, John had beefed up the firm's clout by spinning through the revolving door a few times: He joined the Clinton White House, rose to its highest levels, and then cashed out again to rejoin the lobbying firm he had co-founded. In those years, John hustled for subsidies for insurers, among other lobbying work.
Tony did his part to build up the firm by becoming a major donor and bundler for Democrats. Tony would, over the years, contribute more than $1.2 million to the campaigns of the Democratic politicians his firm was lobbying, according to a Politico analysis. More importantly, Podesta would raise many millions more for Democrats, bringing his rich friends and interested clients to raise buckets and buckets of cash for Democrats.
When the federal government began tracking lobbyist bundlers (bundlers are volunteer fundraisers) as a way of exposing potential corruption Tony and his lobbyist wife Heather prided themselves in leading the league.
Coming hat in hand to Tony Podesta’s Capitol Hill townhouse was a rite of passage for Democratic politicians. Tony, like John, was deeply embedded in Democratic politics. In October 2009, as the Obama administration was shaping and supporting Obamacare, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius paid homage to the Podesta brothers, stopping by Tony’s lavish 65th birthday party.
When Tony had to sell the lobbying townhouse in 2014, he was clever: He hired as his realtor the husband of Senator Mary Landrieu, D-La., then seeking re-election. Sen. Landrieu was also, serendipitously, a member of the Appropriations Committee while Tony was lobbying on behalf of defense contractors.
Some of Tony Podesta’s fundraisers for Hillary Clinton in 2016, in order to draw the deep-pocketed Democrats, had a very high-ranking campaign official as the headliner: Campaign Chairman John Podesta.
That is to say, John Podesta left the Podesta Group during George W. Bush’s first term, but he never stopped working with Tony at the intersection of politics, policy, and money.
We know that Tony lobbied John on client issues while John was a top official in the Obama White House. In one instance, hacked and leaked emails showed Tony pulling strings on behalf of a Puerto Rico client.
When John Podesta moved on to run the Center for American Progress, there was repeated and significant overlap between CAP’s agenda and CAP’s donors on one hand, and the Podesta Group’s lobbying clients and lobbying issues on the other.
For instance, when Wal-Mart was a large CAP donor in 2009, CAP and Wal-Mart teamed up to support an employer mandate in health insurance, which would harm Wal-Mart’s smaller competitors. Simultaneously, the Podesta Group—including Tony, according to federal filings—was lobbying on Wal-Mart’s behalf on healthcare issues.
Plenty of convenient overlaps like this exist. John Podesta’s CAP, for example, was leading the charge for a federal “Green Bank” to subsidize private-sector green-energy projects. Meanwhile, the Podesta Group was representing the U.S. Renewables Group in its pursuit of “alternative financial structures for federal government support of renewable energy.”
All of this work made the lobbying firm John and Tony cofounded very successful. So it's a bitter irony that an investigation into Donald Trump's Russia ties is what may bring down the Podesta Group after nearly 30 years. Tony is leaving the firm, and the longtime CEO Kimberly Fritts is hoping to salvage it in part by dropping the word "Podesta" and finding a new name.
Why not just go with the one the FBI has invented for the Podesta Group?