Months before President Joe Biden tapped Boston mayor Marty Walsh to head the Department of Labor, Walsh began using campaign funds to make large payments to the D.C. consulting firm founded by top Biden adviser Anita Dunn.
Walsh's campaign first paid Dunn's firm, Democratic communications giant SKDKnickerbocker, $18,000 in early September in "consulting" fees. Just one day after receiving Walsh's payment, Dunn—who led Biden's presidential campaign and serves as SKDK's managing director—joined the Biden transition team as one of four national co-chairs.
Walsh went on to send SKDK an additional $72,000 in consulting fees over a three-month span, with the most recent $18,000 payment coming in late December. Just two weeks later, Biden chose Walsh to lead the Department of Labor. Biden then selected Dunn to serve as a senior White House adviser one week after Walsh's nomination.
This is not the first time SKDK has taken lucrative payments from a state official looking to cozy up to national Democrats ahead of a career-advancing appointment. Former California secretary of state Alex Padilla awarded the firm a $35 million no-bid contract in August and fought to pay out the deal when the state's chief fiscal officer refused to approve it. California governor Gavin Newsom (D.) picked Padilla to fill Vice President Kamala Harris's Senate seat in December.
Walsh's payments were a rarity for SKDK, which does not often work in Massachusetts state politics. Walsh had never previously employed the firm and became the first state politician to do so in nearly two years. The Democrat in October told the Boston Herald that he hired SKDK to "prepare for what is ahead for 2021" while he "fully engaged in City Hall work." Walsh had not declared his intention to seek a third mayoral term in November 2021 at the time. His SKDK disbursements were his largest to a single vendor during the months of September, November, and December—Walsh paid just one other out-of-state vendor over those three months.
The Biden administration did not return a request for comment. An SKDK spokesperson told the Washington Free Beacon the firm is "proud to have provided strategic consulting and communications support to Marty Walsh's reelection campaign for Mayor of Boston," adding that Dunn "was on leave from the firm when Mayor Walsh hired SKDK and did not not work on the campaign at any point."
Dunn has long enjoyed close ties to Biden. She served as White House communications director under former president Barack Obama prior to leading Biden's presidential campaign, which paid SKDK more than $2.2 million over the course of the 2020 election. The firm touted Dunn's selection as senior White House adviser, writing that "there's no one better to help restore the soul of our nation" in a Friday tweet. SKDK's website currently features a graphic thanking "Joe Biden, Kamala Harris and all of our clients who fought for the soul of the nation."
Walsh has faced criticism for controversial campaign payments in the past. He funneled nearly $1.2 million to a consulting firm where his longtime girlfriend works as a fundraising consultant. The payments came shortly before Walsh's girlfriend joined the firm and grew from $5,000 per month in 2014 to more than $14,000 per month in 2020. Walsh's mayoral campaign holds more than $5.6 million on hand, state finance records show.
Walsh joined the Massachusetts congressional delegation to attend Biden's inauguration on Wednesday. His Senate confirmation hearing has not been scheduled.