Lobbyists, Think Tanks and the Revolving Door

One of the most well-traveled career paths in Washington takes politicians and staffers from government to lobby shops to think tanks – not always in that order.

John Podesta, founder of the liberal think tank, the Center for American Progress, has traveled this road several times.

After working as counsel to Senate committees in the 1980s, Podesta and his brother, Tony, started the lobbying firm Podesta Associates, predecessor to the Podesta Group. He moved back to government after Bill Clinton took office, ultimately serving as the president’s chief of staff.

He later returned to lobbying during the Bush years, when he launched American Progress. Podesta, who also served as transition coordinator for Barack Obama in 2008, recently stepped down as the center’s president and CEO, but continues as chairman.

Podesta provides one of the more high-profile examples of the ease with which insiders can move among the spheres of lobbying and think tanks. But he’s certainly not alone:

  • Ralph B. Everett, a former lobbyist with Paul Hastings Janofsky & Walker, is now president and CEO of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.
  • J. David Hoppe was a vice president of the Heritage Foundation before becoming president of Quinn Gillespie & Associates. (Hoppe left the firm last year and is now chief of staff to Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.).)
  • David Addington, currently a vice president at Heritage, is a former lobbyist who served as chief of staff and counsel to Vice President Dick Cheney.

When we compared our database of currently registered lobbyists with the boards of 76 major national think tanks, we found the crossovers listed in the table below. (The list grows if you broaden the matchup to lobby firms, rather than registered individuals.)

Generally, lobbyists serving on think tank boards have held high-level government positions.

Four of the 11 people on the list – Richard A. Gephardt, Paul F. McHale, Thomas M. Reynolds and Vin Weber – are former members of Congress.

Weber and Gephardt are also among the First Street 30, the top federal lobbyists of 2011.

Others on the list held prominent administration jobs. James H. Burnley is a former Transportation secretary in the Reagan administration. Kenneth M. Duberstein was Ronald Reagan’s chief of staff. Stuart E. Eizenstat served as director of President Carter’s domestic policy staff, and during the Clinton administration was deputy secretary of the Treasury, under secretary at State and Commerce, and U.S. ambassador to the European Union.

Registered lobbyists with current connections to think tank boards:

Lobbyist Lobby firm Think tank
Berl Bernhard DLA Piper Aspen Institute
James H. Burnley Venable LLP Jamestown Foundation
Kenneth M. Duberstein Duberstein Group, Inc. Brookings Institution
Kenneth M. Duberstein Duberstein Group, Inc. Council on Foreign Relations
Stuart E. Eizenstat Covington & Burling LLP Atlantic Council of the United States
Richard A. Gephardt Gephardt Group National Endowment for Democracy
Richard A. Gephardt Gephardt Group RAND Corporation
Buzz Hefti Van Scoyoc Associates Center for Security Policy
Thurgood Marshall Jr. Bingham McCutchen LLP Third Way
Paul F. McHale McKenna Long & Aldridge Center for National Policy
Thomas M. Reynolds Nixon Peabody LLP American Action Network
Ted J. Trimpa Trimpa Group Third Way
Vin Weber Clark & Weinstock, Inc. American Action Network
Vin Weber Clark & Weinstock, Inc. Aspen Institute
Vin Weber Clark & Weinstock, Inc. National Endowment for Democracy

This is the second of a four-part series on the relationships between think tanks and the lobbying industry:

Laurie Bennett, a longtime journalist, blogs for First Street and Forbes. She’s a co-founder of Muckety.com.


  1. […] Wednesday, January 25: Lobbyists, Think Tanks and the Revolving Door […]

  2. […] Wednesday, January 25: Registered Lobbyists, Think Tanks and the Revolving Door […]

  3. […] Wednesday, January 25: Registered Lobbyists, Think Tanks and the Revolving Door […]

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