Washington Prowler

Wasting No Time

Obama team promotes Waxman at Dingell's expense. Also: The Obama team's secretive K Street Project. Plus: The RNC race heats up.

By 11.7.08

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WAXMAN'S PROMOTION
The Obama transition team engineered the challenge of Rep. Henry Waxman for the chairmanship of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and did so with the approval of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, according to Obama campaign and Energy committee staff. The current chairman, John Dingell, has been a long-time House member and was anticipating returning for what might be his final term in Congress. But Waxman, who has chaired the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, is chomping at the bit for a greater level of influence in the House and Energy and Commerce, one of the crown jewel committees on the House side because of the number of different issues, agencies, and constituencies it deals with.

"Waxman immediately becomes the second or third most influential chairman in the House with this job," says a longtime House Energy Republican staffer. "He's already insufferable, this will make him doubly so."

House Energy and Commerce will give Waxman the platform to wage what another Republican aide called his "holy war" against corporate America, including the oil companies. "People thought it was a pain in the ass to go before his oversight committee? They don't know how bad it is going to be with him in charge of a committee that has some real legislative influence."

The Obama transition team raised the issue of Waxman with Pelosi before Election Day, as they started putting plans in place in anticipation of a lame duck legislative session later this month or in early December. Phil Schiliro, who currently serves as the head of Obama's Congressional liaison team, and who is expected to be the Obama Administration's director of legislative affairs, was a chief of staff for Waxman, as well as policy director for former Democrat Senate leader Senator Tom Daschle, who is also an influential adviser to the Obama team.

"The Obama people wanted Waxman. Pelosi was more than willing to move on Dingell, who, compared to some of these other guys, has played things fairly straight with the people who come before the committee," says a Democrat Energy Committee aide. "They wanted someone who would move more aggressively on the environment issues and get the corporate community more in tune with what we expect from them."

Dingell's staff is outraged by the treatment of their boss, but see little hope of blunting the desire of Pelosi and the Obama team.

 
UNPRECEDENTED AND SECRETIVE
Lost amid all of the jubilation of the Obama victory was the announcement by the Obama transition team that it had set up a separate transition program beyond the one that is paid for by the American taxpayer. Called the "Obama/Biden Transition Project," it 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.

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, such as in 2000, when, with the election in doubt, the Bush-Cheney team set up a private transition office in McLean, Virginia, covering the costs from campaign contributions and other fundraising. 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.

No one is certain that any political organization has ever set up a tax-exempt entity that would be shrouded in such secrecy, particularly when Obama claimed he would be more transparent about the way things were done.

"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.

According to an Obama campaign staffer who 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 of 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.

Regardless of the purpose, Obama campaign officials say there is no intention of shutting down the 501(c) 4 Project after the transition is over.

THE RACE IS ON
South Carolina Republican Party chair Katon Dawson intends to launch next week "one of most organized, national campaigns" for the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee, according to a South Carolina-based political consultant.

"We're talking about a campaign that could run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars," says the consultant, who says that Dawson has even retained a Washington, D.C.-based PR agency to place pro-Dawson items on conservative and political blogs.

"He wants to create the impression that he is the only candidate with a national presence, and that he already has it won," says the consultant.

Dawson has spent more than two months campaigning for the job, which, if he won, would allow him to help Palmetto State Gov. Mark Sanford, who is looking to mount a campaign for the GOP presidential nomination in 2012.

Dawson is hosting a post-election conference in South Carolina, where a number of RNC committee members will be in attendance, to discuss the future of the Republican Party.

Dawson will use the meeting to lobby the committeemen and women, in the hope of firming between 30 and 40 votes of the 168 total voting.

Other potential candidates include Florida party chair Jim Greer, Michigan co-party chair Saul Anuzis, and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.

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