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Mary Landrieu's Husband Brokered Real Estate Deals For Lobbyists, Campaign Donors

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WASHINGTON -- Washington is a small town at the top, and lawmakers and their spouses tend to move in overlapping circles. This reality was underscored Tuesday by a Washington Examiner report that Beltway super lobbyist Tony Podesta had hired real estate agent Frank Snellings, the husband of Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), to sell his Capitol Hill townhouse.

Podesta had previously hired Snellings, a lawyer-turned-property agent, to broker his 2009 purchase of the townhouse for just under $1.5 million. The house has been a regular venue for fundraisers for lawmakers from both parties since then.

"I don't remember when I first met Frank, but it was a long time ago," Podesta told HuffPost. "Frank's a really go get 'em agent, and he has a good instinct," the lobbyist said.

Podesta said Snellings' marriage to Landrieu was "totally immaterial" to his decision to list the townhouse with Snellings.

"We just thought he was a really good real estate agent," Podesta said, a compliment borne out by the Examiner story that the townhouse, which was listed earlier this summer for $1.9 million, is under contract with a buyer.

The arrangement does not violate Senate ethics rules, and Landrieu is not required to disclose her husband's clients on her Senate financial disclosure forms, although they do disclose that he earns income through real estate. But mixing personal finances with political connections runs the risk that one party or the other could potentially have more than just real estate in mind.

Podesta, for instance, counts giant defense contractor Lockheed Martin and oil behemoth BP among his clients. Landrieu, who sits on the Senate Appropriations Committee and comes from a state with a booming oil industry, is undoubtedly a key senator in the eyes of both of these corporations.

Podesta assured HuffPost that he never discussed his clients or Landrieu's work with Snellings and that he has never lobbied Landrieu directly on behalf of Lockheed Martin or BP.

But the veteran lobbyist rarely misses an opportunity to strengthen his network of powerful friends.

At the 2012 Democratic National Convention, he reminded Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) that she had "a permanent invitation" to visit the Podestas' vacation home in Venice, Italy, Mark Leibovich reported in his recent book "This Town." The driving force behind the Capitol Hill townhouse sale -- Tony Podesta's divorce from fellow super lobbyist Heather Podesta -- may require that invitation to be amended. Regardless, it's been previously reported that the Podestas have entertained some 20 members of Congress over the years at their Venice home.

Tony Podesta's hiring of Snellings has drawn attention. After the Examiner highlighted the townhouse deal, a slate of other publications in Washington and Louisiana picked up the story.

Selling homes on Capitol Hill essentially guarantees that you'll run into a fair share of lobbyists and other power brokers, whether you're married to a senator or not, and Snellings has also represented many clients with no connection to politics. Real estate is a fundamentally word-of-mouth business based on personal networks, so it's not surprising that some of his clients have connections to Landrieu and Louisiana.

Landrieu's communications director, Matt Lehner, told HuffPost, "After practicing law in Louisiana for 19 years, Mr. Snellings decided 11 years ago to sell real estate. At that time, he and Sen. Landrieu received guidance from the Senate Ethics Committee that stated it is completely permissible and appropriate for Mr. Snellings to be a real estate agent for anyone. Mr. Snellings and Sen. Landrieu have always abided by the committee's rules and guidance, and they disclose their finances every year."

Since Snellings entered the real estate business in 2002, however, he has brokered houses for a number of Louisiana power players, starting with big-time lobbyist John Breaux. Snellings handled two transactions, a sale and a purchase, for Breaux in 2006, worth close to $2 million in total.

A former Louisiana senator, Breaux now works with the law and lobbying firm Patton Boggs, whose employees are also Landrieu's second most generous source of campaign funds. The firm has deep ties to Louisiana: Name partner Thomas Hale Boggs Jr. is the son of the late Thomas Hale and Lindy Boggs, who between them represented the state in Congress for over four decades.

Another Louisiana political player on Snellings' client list is Richard Zuschlag, a health care industry CEO and Landrieu campaign donor. Employees at Zuschlag's company, Acadian Ambulance Services, have donated more than $85,000 to Landrieu's election campaigns over the course of her career, placing them fourth among her all-time highest donors. Acadian employees have also given to Republicans, including Rep. Charles Boustany (R-La.), and to both major parties' campaign committees.

Zuschlag and his family have personally contributed $23,566 to Landrieu over the senator's career, a relatively small amount when compared to the $399,325 the family has given to Republican candidates for federal office since 1990. He has also been honored by then-President George W. Bush, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) and other Louisiana officials.

In 2006, Snellings helped Zuschlag buy a house a few blocks from the vice president's mansion. Zuschlag owned the property through a holding company until he retained Snellings again, in 2011, to sell it. In the meantime, the house was occupied by Zuschlag's daughter, Emily Zuschlag and, later, her husband Ross LeBlanc, whom she married in 2008. LeBlanc has his own Landrieu connection: He started out as a scheduling assistant in Landrieu's Senate office, before becoming a research analyst for the Senate Small Business Committee, which Landrieu chairs. LeBlanc and his wife left Washington in 2011.

A top lobbyist at Comcast, Melissa Maxfield, hired Snellings to help her buy a house in 2006, three years after she decamped from Capitol Hill to K Street. Maxfield has since been a host for at least three of Landrieu's annual Crawfish Fest fundraisers, in 2010, 2012 and, most recently, in June of this year. She has also made donations totaling $3,600 to Landrieu's political campaigns since 2006.

Former Louisiana Rep. Chris John (D) turned to Snellings to sell his Capitol Hill row house in 2007, before moving back to his home state to work as a lobbyist for the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association. Later the same year, Landrieu made news in Washington when she cast a deciding vote with Republicans to maintain billions of dollars in subsidies for the oil industry. With the senator facing criticism for voting against her party, it was John who came to her defense, writing in The Washington Post about the "courage" she had shown by backing oil and gas interests.

Also on Snellings' client list are a handful of Democratic and progressive politicians from other parts of the country, including former Florida senator, and later governor, Bob Graham; New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen; and Puerto Rico's former congressional representative Carlos Romero Barcelo.

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