CGCN Group, a Republican lobbying firm with ties to the ultra-conservative Freedom Caucus, has formed a new strategic alliance with four Democratic firms that work closely with the Congressional Black and Hispanic Caucuses. The odd quintuple said that despite wildly diverging politics on a slew of issues, they all have one thing in common: high levels of poverty back home.
“Despite their ideological differences, members of the CBC, CHC, and conservative Republicans represent districts that need the most help jump-starting their local economies,” according to a memo drafted to explain the budding partnership. “Most of these districts have at least 20 percent of their populations living below the federal poverty line and are in desperate need of jobs, transportation infrastructure, outside investment, energy, and economic development.”
Jennifer Stewart, of Stewart Strategies & Solutions, one of the Democratic groups involved in the partnership, cited “transportation infrastructure, nutrition programs, education, and criminal justice” as potential areas the crew could work together. “The opportunities are limitless.”
Entrenched, generational poverty has bred universal anger at Washington, Wall Street, and other elite institutions, which establishment Democrats have yet to figure out how to channel, according to the memo. That creates an opening for Republicans looking to exploit class politics, while using Democratic identity politics as leverage. The preponderance of white faces at Democratic lobby shops, meanwhile, puts such firms at a disadvantage in challenging the attack.
Rep. Mark Walker, R-N.C., chairman of the Republican Study Committee, a caucus of conservative Republicans, was ready with praise for the new partnership.
“The biggest problems facing our country demand solutions that transcend partisanship,” Walker said in a statement to The Intercept. “Whether it’s inter-generational poverty, national security crises, or criminal justice reform, we must bridge traditional political and cultural divides to find lasting resolutions with buy-in from all sides.”
At the height of the Democratic primary between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, Clinton built her critique of Sanders on the argument that issues of class and the economy should not dominate the agenda and divert the focus from racism and sexism.
“Not everything is about an economic theory, right?” Clinton asked at one rally during the primary. “If we broke up the big banks tomorrow — and I will, if they deserve it, if they pose a systemic risk, I will — would that end racism?”
“No!” shouted the mostly union audience.
“Would that end sexism?”
“Would that end discrimination against the LGBT community?”
“Would that make people feel more welcoming to immigrants overnight?”
Clinton was tilting at a straw-man. Sanders never pretended that breaking up the banks would end racism, but now that the Democrats’ class vs. race debate has moved from the hot-take corridors of the internet over to K Street, corporate America has a way to leverage the salience of liberal identity politics toward its own ends.
The new lobbying partnership takes this Clinton argument in a direction she was unlikely to have intended: Since breaking up the banks won’t end racism overnight, let’s not focus on breaking up the banks. Instead, let’s find areas where we agree.
A source at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce told The Intercept the lobbying powerhouse was aware of the new effort and “supportive of anything that gets policymakers from both sides together to talk about how we can do more to grow the economy and create jobs.”
The partnership may be a new one — and, unusually, public — but the strategy is not. In recent years, bank lobbyists have sought out members of the CBC to co-sponsor deregulatory measures, hoping that the caucus’s imprimatur can mark bills as OK for progressives to support.
And corporate America has long relied partly on identity to lobby Congress. Different firms tend to specialize in their ability to lobby different factions, typically as a result of having partners who previously worked on Capitol Hill for someone in a particular orbit. A company looking to influence the CHC, for instance, might turn to Velazquez & Associates, one of the four Democratic firms in the partnership. CGCN has built much of its practice around an ability to reach the Freedom Caucus, but it also has close ties to House Republican leadership.
A partner at CGCN, Sam Geduldig, was a top aide to former House Speaker John Boehner. Geduldig has spent years blasting Democrats both publicly and privately for their lack of diversity on K Street, in leadership positions and in the Senate, going so far as to give money to then-Rep. Donna Edwards’s failed bid for the Senate in Maryland.
For Geduldig, the lack of diversity exposes Democrats and, more generally, liberals as hypocrites. As satisfying as the new partnership may be, it could also prove effective, he said.
“If you have minority Democrats and conservative Republicans in support of an issue, whether it is infrastructure, access to capital, or lowering your energy bill, you are well on your way to legislative success,” he said. “This partnership was born out of that concept.”