U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) closes the door of an elevator after a Democratic policy luncheon at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., December 16, 2021.
Elizabeth Frantz | Reuters
Former aides to Sen. Joe Manchin who are now lobbyists are scoring big, influential clients as their ex-boss battles President Biden’s agenda.
Three of Manchin’s previous advisors have recently registered to lobby for at least five new clients: gas and oil giant Hess, media juggernaut Comcast, a nonprofit founded by a former campaign manager for Mike Bloomberg, a group with ties to former presidential candidate Andrew Yang, and an organization partially funded by crypto billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried. The billionaire gave $5 million to a pro-Biden political action committee during the 2020 election.
The former aides – including former chiefs of staff to Manchin – registered to lobby for some of these new clients starting in October, while registering for others as recently as December, according to disclosure reports reviewed by CNBC.
The lobbying registrations came as Manchin’s own influence grew. Manchin, a conservative Democrat from West Virginia, opposed key elements of President Joe Biden’s proposals during the October-December period. Several of the issues listed on the lobbying disclosure forms are related to the Democratic Party’s agenda, such as the child tax credit, income tax and greater access to broadband. The lobbying registration reports do not say whether these representatives are engaging for or against the various proposals.
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In December, Manchin said he wouldn’t vote for Biden’s $1.75 trillion social spending and climate policy plan, which is known as “Build Back Better.” Manchin’s vote is critical for Democrats in a 50-50 Senate. The West Virginia lawmaker has since said he’s had no talks with top Democrats about revisiting the plan.
Several of the Manchin-linked lobbyists have previously engaged people on Capitol Hill on behalf of power players in industries such as coal, pharmaceuticals, oil and gas, tobacco and finance.
A spokeswoman for Comcast declined to comment. The lobbyists and representatives for the new clients did not return requests for comment.
Comcast and Hess
Comcast hired Larry Puccio, who counts himself as a friend of Manchin’s, to lobby on what’s described on the registration form as “telecommunications – broadband deployment and adoption.” Puccio registered to lobby for Comcast in late November and was Manchin’s chief of staff when he was governor of West Virginia.
Biden recently signed a $1 trillion infrastructure bill that includes $550 billion in new money that is targeted toward transportation, broadband and utilities.
In a 2020 interview with a local news outlet in West Virginia, Puccio, a longtime lobbyist, discussed his friendship with Manchin. “Joe and I are very close. I think the world of Joe. I hope you print that. I’ve always been supportive of Joe Manchin. Joe knows me and I know Joe,” Puccio said at the time.
Hess recently hired Patrick Hayes, who was Manchin’s chief of staff until 2019. Hayes registered to lobby for the oil and gas giant in December. He is focused on global intangible low-taxed income, or GILTI, according to the registration form. Changes to GILTI are part of the House-passed Build Back Better bill that has stalled in the Senate due to Manchin’s opposition.
Manchin is the chair of the Senate Energy Committee and has profited from his links to the coal industry. He also opposes key climate provisions in the Build Back Better bill.
Puccio and Hayes also picked up two influential nonprofits as new clients.
Tusk Philanthropies, is a 501(c)(4) founded by former Bloomberg campaign manager Bradley Tusk, lists Hayes as one their new lobbyists from the firm Kountoupes Denham Carr & Reid. The lobbying firm says Hayes and his colleagues registered to lobby for Tusk Philanthropies in October with a focus on “initiatives related to ending childhood hunger including the Community Eligibility Provision.”
Records show that Tusk Philanthropies has hired lobbyists in the past to try to fight for their priorities. The group’s website lists fighting child hunger as one of its goals. The site says the group has been “able to help pass legislation in Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Utah, Arizona, California, New York, New Jersey, Texas, and Washington state.”
Former presidential contender and New York City mayoral candidate Andrew Yang launched a nonprofit called Humanity Forward after he dropped out of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary. The 501(c)(4) recently hired Puccio to focus on the child tax credit, according to the registration form. Puccio registered to lobby for the Yang backed group in early December.
The expansion of the child tax credit was a major feature of Biden’s social spending proposal that has since stalled largely due to Manchin’s opposition.
The group’s website says that the organization has been actively working to expand the provision as it is set to expire.
“Humanity Forward worked with partner organizations and members of Congress on both sides of the aisle to pass the expanded monthly Child Tax Credit payments as part of the American Rescue Plan Act and is actively advancing efforts to prevent its expiration in December 2021,” the website says.
A nonprofit that says it supports Biden’s proposal to spend $30 billion to protect the United States from future pandemics hired lobbyist Jonathan Kott, who was Manchin’s senior advisor and communications director for seven years. Kott registered to lobby for Guarding Against Pandemics in November for what the form says is “issues regarding pandemic preparedness funding.”
The 501(c)(4)’s website says the group is “pushing Congress to include a $30 billion investment in Democrats’ upcoming budget reconciliation bill — less than 1% of the total cost of the bill — to prepare for the next pandemic.”
The website also says the group is partially funded by Sam Bankman-Fried, who has a net worth of $26 billion, according to Forbes. He is the founder and CEO of cryptocurrency exchange FTX.
Disclosure: Comcast owns NBCUniversal, the parent company of CNBC.
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