WASHINGTON -- On Wednesday, union members and Occupy protesters swarmed across downtown Washington, D.C. in an effort to protest companies that pay more for lobbyists than they do on their taxes. One stop was a small lobbying shop in the Penn Quarter district of Washington that didn't quite fit the bill for the protest, since it doesn't lobby much on taxes. Yet the firm, Clark Lytle Geduldig & Cranford (CLGC), was one of the most important stops on the march. It is, after all, Wall Street's favorite little lobbying shop.
On November 19, Occupy protesters concerned about abuses by Wall Street bankers and the imbalance of wealth and power in Washington learned about CLGC's attempts to involve itself in the movement. The MSNBC television program "Up with Chris Hayes" reported that it had obtained a memo the lobbying firm had sent to one of their clients, the American Bankers Association, proposing an $850,000 contract to taint Occupy protests and make Wall Street-bashing less popular.
The firm had offered to dig up opposition research on the Occupy protests and provide survey research that would not only tar the protests, but that could be used in swing states against President Barack Obama and vulnerable Democratic politicians running for Senate. In the end, the ABA rejected the contract proposal and stated that it had not asked for it in the first place.
"We're outraged about it," said Oscar Magana, an education worker who flew into D.C. from Los Angeles to participate in the protest in front of CLGC offices. "This is the type of thing that we've been dealing with for years, the smear tactics and the campaigns of fear. In the past we've only seen them do it against politicians. ... They focus on these small trivial things. The things that divide us, not the things that unite us."
While the ABA turned down the contract, CLGC explained why it should reconsider. "[T]he bigger concern should be that Republicans will no longer defend Wall Street companies -- and might start running against them too," the memo read.
If there's anyone who knows about Republicans defending Wall Street, it's the lobbyists at CLGC. Both Sam Geduldig, the firm's top financial lobbyist, and Jay Cranford used to work for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) -- Cranford left Boehner's office in April -- and are described as his close allies. Geduldig advised the National Republican Congressional Campaign (NRCC) on financial services issues as a member of their K Street messaging team. The firm also employs former Rep. Deborah Pryce, who was previously a member of House Republican leadership.
A message left at the CLGC offices seeking comment was not immediately returned.
During the debate over the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill, CLGC was the most popular firm among financial companies and trade groups. The firm held 20 clients in the summer of 2010 who were lobbying to limit, block, or alter financial reforms, more than any other lobbying firm in Washington.
Since then, CLGC's client list has lengthened dramatically. Moreover, the firm is already on track to see a near 100 percent increase in income over last year, with the majority of that money coming from financial firms. Over the course of 2010, the firm brought in $1.8 million. By September 30, 2011, the firm had brought in $2.6 million in contracts, with $1.4 million of that coming from finance, insurance and real estate companies and trade groups, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
CLGC's clients include the American Bankers Association, Bloomberg LP, the Electronic Payments Coalition, the Investment Company Institute, MasterCard, the National Venture Capital Association, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
The controversial Occupy opposition plan devised by CLGC does not mark the first time the firm has solicited Wall Street to help protect the industry. According to the National Journal, Geduldig solicited six banks with a proposal to form a coalition to oppose a multi-billion dollar bank tax originally included in the Dodd-Frank bill that would have been used to pay for a liquidation fund to wind down distressed and failing banks.
That bank tax became a favorite whipping post for congressional Republicans and a concerted campaign was launched to defeat it. After Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) refused to support the bill if it included the bank tax, it was removed and replaced with a provision that used funds from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) to pay for the liquidation fund.
Brown has since been praised by CLGC lobbyists, despite his eventual vote in support of Dodd-Frank. "Although many people associated with the financial industry disagreed with his vote on Dodd Frank, most feel that Sen. Brown's involvement in the bill was balanced, thoughtful and driven by policy considerations rather than politics," Geduldig told Politico in October 2011.
The firm was also in the middle of a major fight over debit swipe fees that captivated Washington in early 2011. CLGC is one of three firms retained by the Electronic Payment Coalition, which opposes the lowering of swipe fees, the amount banks charge retailers when customers use their debit cards. After the passage of a provision that would let the Federal Reserve set lower debit swipe fees as an amendment to the Dodd-Frank bill, the Republican-controlled House and a bipartisan mix of senators sought to delay the implementation of the rule.
"The idea that Chairman Ben Bernanke and the Fed would set prices in any industry is abhorrent to Republicans," Geduldig was quoted as saying in a Bloomberg article. "Because of that sentiment, we've gained a lot of traction on this issue with the new Republican majority and have a lot of momentum as we continue to push for legislative changes."
Activists targeting CLGC want more than just awareness about the firm's efforts to dig up dirt on the Occupy protests and to block and repeal financial reform.
"The clients that have hired them should fire them," David Donnelly, national field director of Public Campaign, told The Huffington Post. "It would be good to make an example out of this firm."