On the Prowl

On the Prowl

By From the December 2008 - January 2009 issue

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The Obama Project

President-elect Barack Obama and his transition advisers are creating a permanent, nonprofit entity, which they intend to use not only to seed supporters into high-paying lobbying jobs in Washington, but also to employ those supporters who cannot qualify for jobs in the Obama administration.

According to an aide working on the Obama transition, the campaign is aware of some senior staffers and others who probably could not be hired by the Executive Office of the President or by senior Cabinet level offices, so the "Obama/Biden Transition Project," as the nonprofit is called, will allow the campaign to retain talent and pay it at competitive salaries.

The "Project" is a 501(c)4 tax-exempt organization, with no limits on the contributions it can receive and no requirements to divulge the names of individuals or organizations that give it money. Such a structure has not been used before for transitions.

"To my knowledge, it's never been done, and people should be asking why the Obama people chose to do it this way," says a longtime Washington Republican, who has been involved in transitions for the Reagan and Bush campaign teams.

Traditionally, the victorious campaign has set up inaugural funds, as well as funds to deal with legal costs and other expenses to close down the campaign. Others have set up quasi-corporate offices to deal with transition issues. In 2000, with the election in doubt, the Bush-Cheney team set up a private transition office in McLean, Virginia. Ultimately, the federal government, headed by the Government Services Administration, covers the cost of the transition staff, providing it with office space and all equipment.

According to an Obama campaign staffer who has is being retained for the transition and inauguration planning, the "Project" is intended not only to identify personnel for the Obama administration, but to then send those Project employees who know all the senior staff in the various Cabinet departments and federal agencies out into the corporate and lobbying community to leverage those contacts.

"It's taking the old 'K Street Project' that Republicans had and doing it twice as fast and on steroids," explains the aide. "So, if you have a Project aide working on Commerce Department transition, that Project aide will be more likely to get a senior lobbying job because of all those connections at Commerce. That former Project aide will also be able raise more money for Democrats in this town and help others with jobs and such."

As well, the nonprofit may also serve as a haven for Obama supporters and campaign loyalists who for one reason or another can't be employed by the administration or in the federal government. "There are some people who have been with us from the beginning who are clearly political liabilities or who won't be able to qualify for a job, say, because they can't get a security clearance," says another aide, who was unaware of the unique Obama transition project's tax status.

Valerie Jarrett, one of Obama's closest advisers who serves on the board of the "Project," has been named as a possible White House senior adviser or even as Cabinet secretary for Housing and Urban Development, but her longtime ties to the Daley political machine in Chicago, as well as potential scandals from her role in housing projects, may make her unconfirmable.

"The transition project will be a perfect place for her," says one longtime Obama fundraiser. "She can raise millions, be a power player in Washington, help shape the Obama administration and not have to worry about accountability."

Calls From Cantor

House Republican Deputy Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) quickly cut the legs out from under one of his longtime allies by undermining House Republican conference chair Rep. Adam Putnam (R-Fla.) among House Republicans and forcing Putnam to step aside from the leadership race.

Cantor spent the days leading up to November 4 calling fellow Republican House members to apologize for the ugly way the votes on the Paulson-Pelosi federal economic "recovery plan" were handled, thereby hurting a number of House members in tight races. Cantor, according to those who got the call, didn't take all the blame for the botched votes of late September and early October. At the time, instead of congratulating Republican House members for their principled votes against the massive $800 billion bailout, he claimed their opposition was nothing more than a reaction to the vitriolic floor speech made by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

"He said the bailout bill and the votes were a mistake," said a House member who received a call. "He was apologetic about it, but he also claimed the problem was with the communications coming out of the conference. He indirectly blaming Putnam, who was standing beside him during all those press conferences."

Putnam won reelection to the House but announced the next day that he would not stand for a leadership job. Some believed that if Cantor chose to challenge minority leader John Boehner, Putnam would seek to challenge minority whip Roy Blunt. Instead, Cantor is looking to take Blunt's job and wait out Boehner for another election cycle.

Putnam was viewed as a fast riser in the House and, coming from Florida, as perhaps someone with the ability to grow into a national leader, but his strength was not in fundraising, as it is with Cantor.

"Adam is a good man. He's the odd man out, but Cantor isn't doing himself any favors by playing politics the way he is," says another House Republican. "Given where we are politically in the House, it will be interesting to see how he handles the situation. He isn't going to have much to whip, that's for sure."

Subprime Slippers

One reason Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) was eager to jump to the White House as Barack Obama's chief of staff: hope that he could use the White House communications infrastructure to block attacks on him for his role in the mortgage and housing scandals sure to envelop Democrats in the coming months.

Emanuel served on the board of Freddie Mac after leaving the Clinton House, and by some accounts pulled down more than $250,000 for less than a year's work in that capacity. He also earned millions working for hedge funds and Wall Street speculators before running for his congressional seat. That's a lot of dough for the former ballet dancer to spend on whatever it is former ballet dancers spend their money on.

The Anti-Palin Louts

Fallout continues from the smear campaign against Sarah Palin engineered by bitter McCain aides and former Mitt Romney presidential campaign staffers. At press time, conservatives loyal to Palin were attempting to unmask those responsible for spreading what many say are totally false tales of Palin, portraying her as a diva and slow on the uptake.

Romney supporters, some working for McCain, others working as talking heads on TV, were actively seeking to diminish Palin, attempting to present her as a second-tier contender for 2012.

"Sarah Palin is a lightweight, she won't be the first, not even the third, person people will think of when it comes to 2012," said one former Romney aide working for McCain-Palin. "The only serious candidate ready to challenge to lead the Republican Party is Mitt Romney. He's in charge on November fifth."

As is becoming increasingly clear, that simply isn't the case. If anything, the attacks on Palin have increased talk that she will have long-standing leadership role in the conservative movement, if not the Republican Party.

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