David Axelrod and the Political Consulting Business

Posted: October 18, 2008 in 2008 Elections, Barack Obama
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The New York Times has an investigative story on Obama advisor David Axelrod’s consulting work.

Throughout the presidential campaign, Senator Barack Obama’s chief strategist, David Axelrod, has not hesitated to call out his counterparts in opposing campaigns for having private business clients that he says conflict with their roles as political consultants.

During the Democratic primary, he criticized Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton over corporate public relations work by her top adviser, Mark Penn. Last weekend, he accused Senator John McCain’s campaign manager, Rick Davis, of selling access to public officials on behalf of his lobbying clients. In response, Mr. Davis asserted that Mr. Axelrod does the same thing.

Mr. Axelrod is certainly familiar with the ways that corporations seek to influence government and public policy. A look at his consulting business shows that in addition to a successful career working for more than 150 political campaigns, he has also provided his communications skills to a roster of corporations and nonprofit groups. Like his counterpart at the McCain campaign, he has often the goal of swaying government decision makers in favor of his clients.

Mr. Axelrod’s services, though, have been confined to public relations and advertising — he has never been a registered lobbyist. And unlike Mr. Penn and Mr. Davis, whose firms represented controversial clients in the midst of the presidential campaign, no comparable potential conflicts have emerged between Mr. Axelrod’s consulting business and his current work for Mr. Obama. Most of Mr. Axelrod’s clients predate the presidential campaign.

Even so, in a political climate hypersensitized to questions about the influence of “special interests,” Mr. Axelrod’s corporate work has remained largely obscured — his clients’ names were removed from his firm’s Web site several years ago, part of a series of revisions that minimized details of that side of his business.

The identities of some of his past clients appeared in the press over the last year, including AT&T, Cablevision and the University of Chicago Medical Center. A fuller picture emerges from a review of public records, including an archived version of his Web site that contains an early list of companies and organizations his firm has worked with.

Welcome to the wonderful and lucrative world of political consulting. Although there’s no allegation of quid pro quo or conflict of interest in Axelrod’s case, it’s easy to understand why and how so many political consultants from both parties get tempted to take on contracts that could come back to haunt them or their candidates later.


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