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Top Dem Strategist Leaves Politics to Lobby for Utility Industry

04/11/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Watchdog: "The goals of his new employer are going to be largely to undercut the goals of his former employer"

Via Tuesday morning's Congress Daily (subscription req'd) we learn of bad news:

Brian Wolff, executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, has a gig starting April 15 with the Edison Electric Institute in the new position of senior vice president for external affairs.

You are probably wondering why this is such bad news. First, some background information to put things in perspective.

In addition to his role running the DCCC, Brian has been Nancy Pelosi's Political Director since 1999. In the past 12 years he has worked for Al Gore, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, and Chris Van Hollen, among others. As Finance Director and Executive Director of the DCCC for the past several years he has raised large sums of campaign cash for dozens of current Democratic Members of Congress. His new job at the Edison Electric Institute, at least at face value, is to make it difficult for his former bosses to succeed on energy policy.

The Edison Electric Institute is the lobbying arm of the shareholder-owned electric utility industry. They represent about 70% of the electric power industry in the United States. As such, they have a vested interest in the shape and scope of a broad swath of energy policy. Unfortunately, their policy ideas don't match with the thinking of the leadership in Congress, or the fine folks at CEQ, EPA and DOE. More simply, they don't do enough - to transition to a sustainable energy policy - fast enough.

They led the fight against a renewable electricity standard in December 2007, lobbying away a common sense approach to diversify our energy sources and pollute less by peeling off several Republican votes in the Senate. As of September 2008 they are still pushing misleading and convoluted (pdf) anti-RES talking points. Good luck with that.

On climate change they have made progress but still aren't where they should be in 2009. After years of opposition, EEI now supports (pdf) a cap and trade system. But their Global Climate Change Points of Agreement call for pollution allowances to be given directly to utilities, rather than auctioning them off as is typically assumed. As OMB Director Peter Orszag explained to the House Budget Committee last week, "If you didn't auction the permits it would represent the largest corporate welfare program that has ever been enacted in the history of the United States. All of the evidence suggests that what would occur is that corporate profits would increase by approximately the value of the permits." The EEI cap and trade plan is a non-starter, end of story. Their medium and long term goals look like a joke they forgot to take out before publishing the document:

Medium-term targets should be set in the 10 - 20 year timeframe after enactment to match up with and enable technology development (e.g., new nuclear, CCS, etc.).

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi released this statement on Mr. Wolff's career change:

"Brian Wolff understands the people, the politics, and the policy that have driven Democratic victories over the last several years and helped move America in a New Direction. The entire Democratic Caucus will miss his encyclopedic knowledge of the candidates and districts around the country. Brian has been a trusted advisor to me, as well as a dear friend, and I know he will remain an invaluable resource to me and to my colleagues. I wish him the best as he takes on this new challenge."

I contacted the DCCC to confirm that Mr. Wolff would be ending his nearly decade long tenure as Speaker Pelosi's Political Director. Jennifer Crider, Pelosi's spokeswoman, confirmed and offered an interesting response:

Brian Wolff is, of course, resigning from both his positions as DCCC Executive Director and as Speaker Pelosi's Political Director.

Brian is exactly the type person Democrats should want to work with industry -- he's dedicated to our issues, passionate about the need to address global warming, and is a reformer with the highest ethical standards.

What does it mean to be dedicated to our issues? I have an issue with the agenda Edison Electric Institute spends millions of dollars peddling every year. I'm glad to hear that Mr. Wolff is passionate about the need to address global warming. If the need to address global warming he'll be working toward is the plan EEI currently supports, Speaker Pelosi should not be wishing him the best in this endeavor. As Frank O'Donnell of Clean Air Watch said in the previously mentioned Congress Daily piece, "The goals of his new employer are going to be largely to undercut the goals of his former employer."

Commenting on his new post at EEI, Wolff said, "I am very excited about this tremendous opportunity. The utility industry faces many challenges in the midst of a very tough economic environment when so many jobs are at stake in the nation. I look forward to joining the search for solutions."

Mr Wolff's new boss is the President of EEI and a prominent Republican fundraiser named Tom Kuhn. Mr. Kuhn is known for funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars to George W. Bush's first Presidential campaign, before helping Vice President cheney gut the clean air act. Commenting on the new hire, Mr Kuhn observed that "Brian's background makes him uniquely qualified to lead EEI's external affairs activities."

Mr. Kuhn was being brutally honest. According to a post-election Washington Post piece, "Top lobbying firms are gearing up to handle increased demand from corporate clients who fear that the Obama administration will expand its regulatory reach and target them for tax increases."

Brian Wolff is by no means an anomaly. Patrick Von Bergen just went from being Chief of Staff for Senator Bingaman to Quinn Gillespie, where he will work on energy issues. And Laura Sheehan, who was a top aide for Rep. John Dingell and policy director at the DCCC, has taken a new gig doing marketing and communications at the American Gas Association.