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BP Trying a Different Form of Containment

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After the Top Kill failed, the company turned to something it hopes will work -- lobbyists.

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While BP's (BP) efforts to contain the disastrous spill in the Gulf of Mexico have so far been unsuccessful, the company is hoping that the best lobbyist money can buy will be able contain further fallout from both the current PR disaster and a slate of soon-to-come regulatory changes.

In an interview with Minyanville, Craig Holman, legislative representative for Public Citizen, a non-profit advocacy group in Washington DC, said, "BP has a huge, huge uphill battle to wage and they're playing this game the best way they can. With all the money BP has at its disposal, they're hiring the best ones available, which are the most well-connected. So they're tying into the people with the best connections."

Exactly how well-connected are BP's lobbyists?

Let's start with the Podesta Group, which was founded by John Podesta and his brother Tony. While John Podesta, who was Bill Clinton's chief of staff and the head of Barack Obama's transition team, is no longer with the company, Tony Podesta and team are not lacking for access to government at the highest levels.

Tony Podesta and his wife Heather (who is the head of her own lobbying shop, Heather Podesta + Partners, which represents such clients as Marathon Oil (MRO)) owned the original Shepard Fairey "Hope" portrait of President Obama, which they donated to the National Portrait Gallery. In an interview with The Hill, he said he's "happy to abide by whatever lobbying rules the administration sets" before noting that he "doesn't feel unwelcome by the administration, having visited the White House twice and the Old Executive Office Building three times."

Podesta credits his company's success to a staff fresh from their jobs on Capitol Hill, which includes people like Hewitt Strange, former aide to Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieux, before whom he served as an aide to Senator John Breaux, and Jonanathan Mantz, who was finance director for Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign.

Next up, the Duberstein Group.

If you recognize Chairman and CEO Kenneth Duberstein's name, it may be because he was President Ronald Reagan's Chief of Staff. (He's currently on the ConocoPhillips (COP) board of directors).

President Michael Berman served as Vice President Walter Mondale's counsel and deputy chief of staff and has advised a number of judicial and executive branch nominees subject to Senate confirmation.

Brian Griffin, a former aide to Senator Byron Dorgan, who was a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, made a pit stop at Honeywell (HON) before heading over to Duberstein.

Duberstein also employs Daniel Meyer, who was former chief of staff for Newt Gingrich as well as a White House liaison, and Eric Ueland, former chief of staff to Senator Bill Frist.

To lift a line from late night TV hucksters: But wait! There's more!

Working out of the offices of Arnold & Porter, former Texas Congressman Jim Turner and his former aide David Pore are arguing BP's case to legislators. Former members of Congress don't come cheap -- Public Citizen's Holman points out that they cost up to $3 million a year.

Stuntz Davis & Staffier is on BP's payroll, as well. According to SDS's website, Linda G. Stuntz "served as Deputy Secretary of the United States Department of Energy under President George H.W. Bush. In that position, and in other senior policy positions at the Department between 1989 and 1993, she played a principal role in the development and enactment of the Energy Policy Act of 1992." (Stuntz also serves on the Schlumberger (SLB) board of directors).

Stuntz also boasts that "many of the firm's attorneys served in a variety of senior positions with the US Congress or Federal agencies prior to joining the firm. These positions included Deputy Secretary of Energy; Assistant Secretary of Energy for Fossil Fuels; Associate Director of the Office of Management and Budget, Natural Resources, Energy and Science; Minority Counsel and Staff Director, House Energy and Commerce Committee; Counsel, House Energy and Power Subcommittee; and Assistant to the President for Policy Development, Natural Resources and the Environment."

The Alpine Group is also particularly well-connected. Lobbyist Jason Schendle formerly served Senator Mary Landrieu as legislative counsel, focusing on energy and agriculture and advising the senator in crafting the Energy Policy Act of 2005.

Bob Brooks is the former chief of staff to Representative Jim McCrery of Louisiana.

Rebecca Hawes is the former legislative counsel to Louisiana Senator John Breaux.

Courtney Johnson is a former House Energy & Commerce Committee staffer; Charles Barnett came from Senator Blanche Lincoln's office, where he served as Lincoln's senior advisor on energy and resources policy, environmental law and regulation, and energy-related tax matters; Ansley Erdel spent several years in the office of Congressman Nathan Deal, a senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee; Michael Henry was the lead oil and gas staffer responsible for development on Federal public lands and the Outer Continental Shelf for the House Committee on Resources; Courtney Johnson was formerly with the House Committee on Energy and Commerce staff, where she focused primarily on energy policy and "has an extensive network on the Hill."

Michelle Laxalt, president of the Laxalt Corporation, was actively involved in the presidential campaigns of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush as well as that of George W. Bush. Laxalt's website notes that "she maintains a high level of activity with election and re-election campaigns for the US Senate, US House of Representatives, and Gubernatorial races throughout the country." When it comes to opening doors, it doesn't hurt that her father is former Senator Paul Laxalt. (No stranger to lobbying challenges, Laxalt also represents Altria (MO)).

Hilary Rosen, former CEO of the Recording Industry Association of America and now a managing partner at Brunswick Group, where she is heading up the BP effort, worked on Capitol Hill for former New Jersey Governor Brendan Byrne, Senator Bill Bradley, and Senator Dianne Feinstein.

Brunswick Director David Seldin served as a press aide on President Bill Clinton's White House staff and as communications director for Senator Ron Wyden; Julie Andreeff Jensen served as Get-Out-the-Vote Director for Barack Obama 's 2008 presidential campaign in Pennsylvania.

Does something smell funny here?

Not to Duberstein's Berman. On NPR, Berman said of lobbying, "It's always been part of the system." When the interviewer responded that "it's always been done" didn't sound like the strongest defense, Berman came back with, "Well, it is the only defense that I know of, quite frankly."

The question is, how far can political connections get a company responsible for the most damaging environmental catastrophe in US history?

"When you get people that are this well-connected, they actually start working with the administration," Public Citizen's Holman says. "BP can accept some responsibility but not all. And that's what they're aiming for."


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