Former Obama Advisers Cash In

New consulting firms, corporate gigs for the former administration and campaign operatives
Stephanie Cutter / AP

Stephanie Cutter / AP


Former Obama advisers are now cashing in left and right, through a variety of corporate and advisory roles in the private sector, the New Republic’s Noam Scheiber reports.

From the first lady’s former communications director now the vice president of Siemens corporate affairs, to individual consulting deals for Obama campaign operatives like Stephanie Cutter and David Plouffe, there is a new generation of “Obama millionaires.”

For instance, Scheiber notes, former UBS president Robert Wolf has opened shop with a new firm called 32 Advisors, which advises domestic and foreign business clients:

The firm opened its doors in February after signing up several prominent Obama alumni, including former White House economic adviser Austan Goolsbee, who will provide “economic intelligence” as a “strategic partner,” and Kevin Varney, the former chief of staff of the government’s export-import bank (the very same agency clients will hit up for loans). Wolf hopes to keep the roster of companies he works with small and the interactions intimate. “We’re very exclusive,” he says. “The clients want to be serviced.” Goolsbee, for example, hosts a weekly conference call with roughly a dozen hedge funds and private-equity firms to opine on the topic of the day. He occasionally dines with one of the fund managers. […]

Though Wolf promises that his firm won’t lobby—anyone who asks will be referred to Washington fixer (and strategic partner) Heather Podesta—the text of the website advertises a “broad network of relationships” to help clients“open and sustain the lines of communication with political, business and financial leaders.” None of this has gone unnoticed in Obamaworld. “There are those of us who e-mailed it to each other to laugh about it,” says a former White House official. “It’s stunning.”

Wolf raised more than half a million dollars for the president’s reelection campaign, and is a fairly frequent Obama golf partner. In 2009, Obama appointed Wolf to the Economic Recovery Advisory Board; he also served on the Economic Recovery Advisory Board.

Scheiber also writes of a rift between a contingency of former advisers linked to SKDKnickerbocker managing director Anita Dunn, and advisers close to David Axelrod, Bob Gibbs, and Plouffe:

Members of the Axelrod-Gibbs-Plouffe axis chafe at the work Dunn’s firm, SKDKnickerbocker, has done for ex–Republican governor Charlie Crist andfor a coalition of junk-food manufacturers. “We’re very sensitive about not working for anyone that … might reflect poorly on the president,” says one former Obama adviser. “Other firms haven’t concerned themselves with that. Anita Dunn and SKDK worked on the sugar campaign in direct competition with the first lady’s anti-obesity campaign.”

In response, those close to Dunn cry double standard. Plouffe, after all, has made hundreds of thousands of dollars advising corporate clients like Boeing and G.E., and he once gave a speech in Azerbaijan underwritten by a group closely aligned with the country’s dictator. Gibbs served as a semi-official spokesman for the Obama campaign last year while commanding jaw-dropping speaking fees from corporations no doubt keen to influence the White House. (Gibbs says there’s a difference between handicapping the presidential race and “advising groups who oppose the president and first lady’s top priorities.”) Dunn’s defenders also note that she was successful for decades before advising Obama, unlike some of the newly minted “Obama millionaires.”

Plouffe’s Azerbijan-underwritten speech was not his only engagement with questionable backers; the adviser was paid to speak in 2010 by a South African company with ties to the Assad regime. He has also earned up to $20,000 investing in Standard Charter Bank, a British bank that broke sanctions to do business with Iranian clients.

The former advisers also have been much cosier with hedge funds in their private sector ventures.

Gibbs was paid to speak last year at the SALT Conference, an annual meeting of some of the world’s most powerful hedge fund managers, investors, and political figures. Axelrod spoke at the event the year before, as well.

As reported by the Washington Free Beacon, an email proposal circulated last year among hedge fund managers last year by a PR firm touted Dunn as a consultant to improve the industry’s image.