Swamp Monsters: Amazon Drops Two D.C. Mega-Lobbyist Firms, Hires Pair of Ex-Podesta Group Lobbyists

David Ryder/Getty Images
David Ryder/Getty Images
Washington, D.C.

Tech giant Amazon has dumped two top D.C. lobbying powerhouses, Akin Gump and Patton Boggs, to replace them with two lobbyists who left the now-defunct Podesta Group in the wake of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe ending the organization.

“Amazon ended its relationship with Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, the law firm that attracts more lobbying revenue than any other K Street operation, and Squire Patton Boggs, last Friday, according to a person familiar with the decisions,” Bloomberg’s Jennifer Jacobs, Ben Brody, and Spencer Soper reported on Friday morning. “At the latter firm, Amazon’s lobbyists included former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott.”

Per the Bloomberg report, Amazon has replaced the top D.C. lobbying firms with two other veteran lobbyists who left the now-defunct Podesta Group: Paul Brathwaite of Federal Street Strategies LLC and Josh Holly of Holly Strategies Inc.

Brathwaite and Holly are veteran D.C. lobbyists with deep connections in corporate America, on Capitol Hill, and throughout Washington. Brathwaite was a principal with Podesta Group, the lobbyist firm that Hillary Clinton campaign chairman and ex-White House chief of staff John Podesta’s brother Tony Podesta founded in 1988. The firm became defunct in 2017 after Tony Podesta left his longtime firm as it came out that special counsel Robert Mueller was probing the firm’s connections to Russians.

Brathwaite has deep governmental connections, mostly on the Democrat side.

“Paul began his lobbying career after serving for six years as the executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) under three CBC chairs: Reps. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Elijah Cummings (D-MD) and Melvin Watt (D-NC),” his new firm, Federal Street Strategies, says about him on its website, adding:

As executive director, Paul worked for all 43 members of the CBC and coordinated both domestic and foreign policy legislative initiatives for the CBC.  He also worked for Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE), who was then a member of the House, Rep. Mike Castle (R-DE) and Governor Mario Cuomo (D-NY). During the Clinton administration, Paul served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor for the Employment Standards Administration under Secretary Alexis Herman. Paul also worked in the Department of Transportation’s General Counsel’s Honors Program.

Holly, the other ex-Podesta Group lobbyist, rounds out Amazon’s full-scale assault on Washington by giving the firm GOP connections. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Holly spent from 1999 to 2001 as the director of news analysis for the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) before working as press secretary for a year for then-Rep. Ernie Fletcher (R-KY). Fletcher would go on to become governor of Kentucky, and Holly went to work for Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) as a deputy press secretary, then moved on for a few years to the House Education and Workforce Committee, then to several years at the House Armed Services Committee before joining the Podesta Group in 2011.

On his Twitter page, Holly describes himself in part as a “defense lobbyist”—which may signal why Amazon wants him on its team: the company is right now seeking a $10 billion per year cloud computing contract with the Pentagon for the entire U.S. defense and intelligence apparatus.

Perhaps better than any other example from Silicon Valley, Amazon’s close relationship with the federal government has led to the company’s early success—and to founder Jeff Bezos’ significant increase in personal wealth. Amazon’s efforts to secure the Pentagon contract have come under fire by supporters of President Donald Trump, who are pushing the president to try to stop the deal.

The president, meanwhile, has voiced concerns with another Amazon lucrative federal government contracts: a deal with the United States Postal Service (USPS) that allows the company to ship boxes through USPS at a reduced rate.

Amazon has had deep lobbying ties in Washington for years, the Bloomberg reporters wrote.

Bloomberg’s Jacobs, Brody, and Soper wrote:

For years, Amazon has been working to steer its image from that of a cut-throat internet giant wreaking havoc on Main Street to that of a job-creation machine that invests billions in new warehouses and offices, hires people by the thousands and helps small businesses grow by letting them sell products on its popular web store.

The three went on:

In recent months, however, the company has faced a shifting landscape in Washington. Trump has aimed repeated Twitter barbs at Amazon Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos, who also owns the Washington Post, which has been critical of his administration. Attacks by the president have coincided with calls for scrutiny by outside groups that say Amazon has gotten too big and should be investigated for anti-competitive practices. Both Akin Gump, which began working with Amazon in 2014, and Patton Boggs, which the company famously hired in 2013 at the beginning of a surge in lobbying, had been focusing on tax matters for the company, according to their most recent federal lobbying disclosures.

Bloomberg noted that Bezos and Amazon have increased lobbying expenditures by 400 percent in recent years as they seek to change pathways in Washington from pushing for lower taxes to acquiring lucrative federal contracts.

“Driven by the need to tackle regulatory and legislative hurdles to its ever-expanding business lines, Amazon has increased its lobbying spending more than 400 percent in the last five years, shelling out nearly $13 million in 2017, according to the disclosures,” Jacobs, Brody, and Soper wrote. “It lobbied more government agencies than any other tech company, the records show, making its presence felt from Congress and the White House to NASA as it outspent all of its peers except for Google. While for years, Amazon focused on a narrow set of issues such as state sales taxes and copyrights, the online retail giant now deploys lobbyists broadly across Washington as it seeks to begin drone delivery of goods, sell cloud services to the Defense Department and make acquisitions.”

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