August 1, 2021

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Lobbyists begin to prepare for a potential Joe Biden presidency

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden speaks during a drive-in campaign rally at Riverside High School on October 18, 2020 in Durham, North Carolina.

Drew Angerer | Getty Images

Lobbyists are preparing for a potential Joe Biden presidency as he leads President Donald Trump in national and several swing state polls.

In recent weeks, some lobbyists have started meeting with Biden advisors, including Rhett Buttle, the campaign’s national business advisor, according to people familiar with the discussions. 

These lobbyists have participated in Zoom meetings with questions on how a possible Biden administration plans to work with Congress on many of the campaign’s policy proposals, such as tax and infrastructure reform, the people noted. The answers to these questions could give lobbyists insight into how their clients may see a benefit or a downturn in a Biden White House.

Though Biden’s advisors have privately waved off lobbyists asking policy-related questions, they have encouraged them to help Biden through get-out-the-vote efforts and raising money for the Democratic National Committee, they added. It’s notable Biden’s advisors have not told lobbyists to give directly to the campaign, as the Democratic nominee has sworn off contributions from those in the influence industry.

Still, these meetings and sometimes informal conversations are examples of how lobbyists are angling themselves for what could be a Biden victory.  The people who declined to be named in this story did so in order to speak freely.

Many lobbyists have been telling their clients that they expect a strong relationship with a potential Biden administration. Reasons include: Steve Ricchetti, himself a former lobbyist, is Biden’s campaign chairman and has been mentioned as a potential candidate for White House chief of staff; and the campaign’s transition team allows the inclusion of lobbyists. 

Also, Biden would likely surround himself with administration officials who have built relationships with lobbyists and industry chiefs over the years.

“The message is you will have a much more predictable and traditional policy making process,” said Matthew Epperly, a managing director at lobbying firm Chartwell Strategy Group, in describing his conversations with clients. “So when you are making a domestic policy advocacy campaign you can do it more of a ground up approach through the agencies and make your way into the White House,” he added.

“In the Trump White House, policy is more personality driven than through the agencies. It’s moving conversations into social media and TV. It’s conversations that happen on CNBC and Fox Business, that then create an echo chamber to create policy,” he noted.

Biden has pledged to curb the “improper influence of lobbyists” and build upon the Obama administration’s ethics pledge. Obama signed an executive order early on in his first term as president, which said that appointees who were previously registered lobbyists during the prior two years should not participate in any government matters on which they had previously lobbied.

The Biden campaign did not respond to a request for comment on this story.

Biden priorities

Bob Crowe, a partner at lobbying shop Nelson Mullins, told CNBC that he is “excited” about the prospect of a Biden victory, noting the former vice president is an old friend of his. When asked how he could work with a Biden administration on issues such as health care, tax reform and trade disputes, Mullins said: “All those issues will play a role, but it looks like the first issue will be a major infrastructure bill.”

Biden’s campaign has proposed a $1.3 trillion infrastructure bill that would invest in restoring highways, roads and bridges, while trying to spur further adoption of electric vehicles and trains. The former vice president’s plan also calls for replacing water pipes, building out rural broadband access and updating schools, among other measures.

Biden’s allies in the business community have already started lobbying members of Congress on what could be a massive infrastructure bill.

“We have targeted 50 swing districts around the country so when 2021 comes, Joe will have the votes to go big,” said a person familiar with the effort.

With Election Day just 15 days away, and a potential Democratic sweep on the horizon, other firms have been strategizing with their clients on who could join a Biden administration and the policies that could become law. At least nine Republican incumbent senators are fighting to keep their jobs in races that have either been deemed toss-ups or “lean Democrat.”

On calls with campaign advisors, lobbyists have heard a wide range of names being floated of those that could lead the Treasury Department including Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Fed Governor Lael Brainard and BlackRock CEO Larry Fink, a person familiar with the matter explained.

Lobbying giant Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck listed a wide range of possible Biden cabinet members in a note last month.

For chief of staff, the firm listed said it could be either Ricchetti or Ron Klain, a campaign advisor and one of Biden’s former chiefs of staff when he was vice president. The firm believes Treasury secretary could fall to Warren, former director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Richard Cordray, Minneapolis Fed President Neel Kashkari, or J.P. Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon. Brainard is listed as possible head of the National Economic Council.

For secretary of State, the firm lists former Obama national security advisor Susan Rice, Biden’s foreign policy advisor Tony Blinken, and Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, as potential candidates.

Impact on Trump world

The impact of a potential Biden presidency might already be affecting lobbying shops with ties to Republicans.

Former longtime lobbyist Tony Podesta said in an email that he has heard Republican-led lobbying firms are already keeping a close eye on potential hires that have links to Biden but any official moves will largely depend on what takes place in the fight for the Senate.

“All or almost all Republican firms are looking desperately for Biden Democrats. Everyone is looking for Biden Democrats to add,” he said.

Scott Mason, a lobbyist at Holland & Knight who worked on Trump’s 2016 campaign and later his transition, said firms like his will be fine under a Biden presidency since they employ people from both sides of the aisle.

The future might not be so bright for other GOP-linked firms, including Ballard Partners, which is run by veteran Trump campaign bundler Brian Ballard.

“His revenues drop significantly if Trump loses,” Mason recently told CNBC. Ballard’s clients in 2020 have included corporate juggernauts such as Amazon, Boeing and Major League Baseball. The firm does employ Democrats.

In the third quarter, almost a dozen clients dropped Ballard’s firm, lobbying disclosure reports show.

One of the groups to withdraw from the firm was Secure Democracy, a nonprofit that “works to educate policymakers and the public about secure and fair elections,” according to its website.

A person with direct knowledge of the matter said the organization moved on from Ballard Partners because their values didn’t align with Secure Democracy’s. The group was also concerned after seeing news reports on the firms dealings both domestically and abroad.

The person did not elaborate on what deals concerned them enough to cut ties with the firm.

A representative for Ballard Partners declined to comment both on the firm’s plans and why Secure Democracy terminated its contract.

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