If there was any doubt about whether Tony and Heather Podesta qualify as a Washington power couple, it can now be erased.
The couple, already known as top-tier Democratic donors and lobbyists, appears back-to-back at the top of the FEC's lobbyist bundler database. Both Podestas bundled over $320,000 each in just the first six months of this year, blowing away the nearest competitor and setting themselves up to make an early impact in what is shaping up to be the most expensive political cycle in American history.
When told that she had placed second to another Podesta, Heather Podesta laughed and said, "I think I need to go to work. I never like to play second to my husband."
Her spouse deadpanned, "The tortoise always beats the hare."
According to an iWatch News analysis, since the beginning of this year 30 lobbyists or lobbying entities have bundled a little over $2 million to 14 political entities, including party committees and political candidates of all kinds.
To outside watchdogs, few things are as controversial as the role of big money bundlers and big money lobbyists. Lobbyists bundling large amounts of cash "raises the specter of this quid pro quo that is so disturbing," says Mary Boyle, vice president of communications for Common Cause. She describes bundlers as the "power brokers" of the regulated financial system, who do a valuable service for candidates that in return "buys them access, influence and, certainly, prestige within the campaign."
Here are the Top 5 lobbyist bundlers to date:
*The largest bundler so far is Anthony T. Podesta, with just under $350,000 bundled to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) and the campaign of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. It should be no surprise Podesta's money has gone exclusively to Democrats. One of GQ's 2009 "50 Most Powerful People in D.C.", Podesta is wired into the Democratic establishment -- his brother John served as Bill Clinton's White House chief of staff and more recently acted as President Obama's transition team co-chair while running the left-leaning Center for American Progress. Anthony's Podesta Group is one of the most powerful lobbying entities in DC, with clients ranging from the American Meat Institute to Duke Energy to Sallie Mae. Since the start of the year, his firm has brought in at least $13.7 million in contracts.
Podesta told iWatch News that the $350,000 total seemed low to him, and said he intended to continue bundling through the rest of the cycle with no set goal in mind. When asked whether he was surprised by being the top bundler lobbyist in the database, Podesta replied, "No surprises ever."
*In second place is Heather Podesta, Anthony's wife and a powerful lobbyist in her own right. Like her husband, her bundled donations have gone exclusively to Democrats -- over $322,000 went to the DCCC and DSCC. An art collector and board member for several collections, Heather Podesta is also the owner of her own successful lobbying firm that works for a broad range of clients, including the American Beverage Association, Marathon Oil and Prudential Financial. Heather Podesta + Partners has brought in at least $3.3 million in contracts since January.
"Tony and I started this cycle immediately, and wanted to not wait until 2012 to engage," she said. "So we really jump started our fundraising early this cycle."
Podesta said she was not aware previously of the FEC database, which is put together by filings from the recipients of the funds. However, she said she supported the idea of more transparency. "Do I think transparency is good? Yes. Do I think it should be applied to everyone? Absolutely," she said, adding that more transparency on the whole process, including the secretive "Super PACs," would be a good thing. (Podesta added that she has not donated to the Super PACs.)
*Patrick J. Durkin, managing director of the financial firm Barclays Capital, is the top Republican donor on the list. His $167,800 was exclusively bundled for the presidential campaign of Mitt Romney, joining several other lobbyists who combined for more than half a million dollars to the former governor of Massachusetts. Durkin, a long-time financial executive, has lobbied for Barclays on financial issues, including the Dodd-Frank reform bill, the "American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act" and changes to the tax code. The company has spent over $2.2 million on lobbying since the start of the year.
Durkin declined to comment for the story. Instead, Barclays issued a statement saying "Barclays supports the rights of its employees to engage in public and volunteer service in their personal time. Mr. Durkin's engagement is consistent with Barclays policy." It's not Durkin's first go around as a bundler -- he bundled big money for President W. Bush in both 2000 and 2004, and for John McCain in 2008.
*The fourth largest bundler lobbyist is T. Martin Fiorentino Jr., president of the Fiorentino Group. A Florida native, Fiorentino raised $102,900 for Romney's campaign and $41,200 for the Senate run of Republican Mike Haridopolos, who has since ended his campaign. Fiorentino, who did not back Romney in the 2008 primary, is no stranger to bundling -- he raised over $1 million as the Florida Finance Co-Chair for John McCain and rose to the levels of "Pioneer" and "Ranger" in the two campaigns of George W. Bush. Although Fiorentino has not lobbied on anything directly so far in 2011, he confirmed he is still a registered federal lobbyist. He has previously lobbied on behalf of Florida State College and Physician Sales and Service; both remain clients of his firm, The Fiorentino Group, which raised $70,000 in federal lobbying contracts in 2011. Fiorentino has come under fire in recent weeks for his firm's work on behalf of a foreclosure company that was reprimanded in April by the federal government for "unsound practices."
Fiorentino said he has been personal friends with Haridopolos for over a decade, and he ...
Follow The Center for Public Integrity on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Publici