Former Missouri Senator Jim Talent has emerged as a key policy advisor and public surrogate for Mitt Romney, and he is "regarded by insiders as a contender for a Cabinet-rank position if Romney wins the election," maybe even Secretary of Defense. Just this morning, Talent appeared on MSNBC's The Daily Rundown to preview Romney's debate performance and criticize President Obama's handling of the economy, the federal deficit and the Middle East.
At the same time, Talent runs a big D.C. lobbying firm that represents major corporations, like the coal industry.
Last fall, the Romney campaign released an energy policy paper that included a statement by Talent blaming government regulation for America's energy challenges: "The problem is not that America does not have energy. The problem is that our government -- alone among the governments of the world -- will not allow its own people to recover the energy that they possess." And where can such energy be found? Talent has an idea: "America has hundreds of years of coal reserves.''
Even as he touts long-term use of coal for Romney, Talent remains today the co-chairman of Mercury Public Affairs, a D.C. lobbying and communications firm. As the Boston Globe first reported last year, Mercury lobbies for St. Louis-based Peabody Energy, the world's biggest private sector coal company.
Peabody has paid Mercury nearly $700,000 in the past six years. The Romney energy paper did not disclose that Talent's firm was earning money from the coal industry when Talent praised coal as a pillar of America's energy future for centuries to come.
Newsweek ranked Peabody energy 500th out of 500 -- dead last -- in its environmental ranking of America's 500 largest corporations in 2009 and 2010, because of the impact of mining and burning coal and because of Peabody's aggressive stance against regulation. (The company managed to move up in the ratings for 2011 -- to 492.)
Peabody is a corporate leader in denying the dangers of global warming. Peabody's website says today, "The greatest crisis society confronts is not a future environmental crisis predicted by computer models but a human crisis today that is fully within our power to solve... with coal" (ellipses in original).
Peabody is a member of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, a coal industry group that has spent millions campaigning against efforts to halt global warming. A leaked 2004 "strategy letter" from the president of that organization to Peabody's CEO outlines plans to oppose the McCain-Lieberman cap-and-trade bill "that would be highly injurious to coal-based electricity" and to "sow discord" among Northeast states committed to a greenhouse gas reduction plan.
Peabody has spent about $42 million on lobbying in Washington since 2005.
Last year, the controversial corporate front group the American Legislative Exchange Council presented an award to Kelly Mader, Peabody's Vice President of State Government Relations, as a Private Sector Member of the Year. (At least 25 major corporations have left ALEC this year, after disclosures of ALEC's support for controversial anti-voting and gun legislation.)
Mercury Public Affairs's website includes these words of praise from Fred Palmer, Peabody's Vice President of Government Relations: "Mercury's smart, comprehensive strategies and unrelenting work ethic combine to provide our company with truly effective advocates on [Capitol] Hill."
Romney appears to get much of his policy advice from people who are paid by special interests to advocate on policy issues. Earlier this year, Romney held a fundraising event in Washington. For $10,000 one could participate in a policy roundtable. The energy discussion was led by L.E. Simmons, founder of a Texas private equity firm that invests in energy companies. The financial institutions component was handled by investment company CEO Richard Breeden. The health care panel was run by former Utah Governor Mike Leavitt, now chair of Leavitt Partners, which advises corporate clients on health care issues. Education was addressed by Bill Hansen, president of testing technology maker Scantron, which sits on the education policy task force of the controversial corporate advocacy group ALEC. And the infrastructure panel was run by corporate lobbyist Jim Talent.
Talent, who oversees coal industry lobbying and then endorses coal in a Romney policy paper, symbolizes how Romney's "No Apology" mantra might play out in Washington -- as president, it seems, Romney could hand over public policy to special interests.
- In June, Stephanie Harnett, a senior associate at Talent's firm Mercury, was caught posing as a reporter and spying on labor organizers at a Walmart warehouse. At the time, Mercury represented Walmart. After the spying was disclosed, Mercury fired Harnett and claimed it didn't authorize her actions. Walmart then cut ties with Mercury.
- In 2001 -- after his unsuccessful bid to be Missouri's governor and prior to his successful 2002 Senate run -- Talent was employed for ten months by the Washington lobbying and law firm Arent Fox, which paid him $230,000 even though he was barred by law from lobbying and not licensed to practice law in the District of Columbia. Arent Fox said it was "absurd" for critics to claim that the firm paid Talent to curry favor with a potential senator, but the firm admitted that Talent's GOP tie did help him get hired, to balance out prominent Democrats at the firm.
- While aggressively stumping for Romney, Talent also is now publicly supporting the Senate bid of his fellow Missouri Republican, Rep. Todd Akin, whose campaign stumbled after he said women had "ways" to shut down pregnancies in the event of "legitimate rape." Even former Missouri Senator and U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft is not backing Akin at this point.
The orginal version of this article appeared on Republic Report.