GM’s Bailout Bucks

Automaker gave seven figures to Dem lobbyists after bailout

Vin Roberti (AP Images) and Tony Podesta (WikiMedia Commons)
May 18, 2012

General Motors has funneled more than $1 million to two powerhouse Democratic lobbyists since the taxpayers rescued the automaker in 2009.

GM teamed with Navigators Global and the Podesta Group beginning in 2010 and soon arranged six-figure contracts with lobbying teams headed by Democratic bundlers Vin Roberti and Tony Podesta. Each earned top nods from GQ’s Monthly Power List soon after inking the GM contracts.

Roberti has been the automaker’s highest paid lobbyist since 2010. The longtime- Democratic activist and film producer has represented a slew of Democratic allies, pushing for unionization expansion as a UPS lobbyist, which FedEx Corp. called a UPS bailout; broadband internet stimulus for AT&T; and support for the TARP bank bailout on Citigroup’s behalf—the same bailout that would later rescue GM.

The automaker has rewarded Roberti for his efforts.

Roberti, a longtime fundraiser for Sen. Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.), the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, merged his lobbying shop with Navigators, a Republican shop, in December 2008. The K Street firm soon cashed in on nearly $400,000 while representing GM, which received more than $70 billion from taxpayers.

The bipartisanship was not to last, however. When Navigators spun off the Democratic lobbyists in 2011, GM followed suit, shifting a lucrative $392,500 contract to the newly formed Roberti and Associates. The firm has earned $80,000 from GM so far in 2012, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Roberti has established himself as a power player in Connecticut politics. His Washington D.C. ties have enabled his 29-year-old son, Dan, to raise more than $1 million in the Democratic primary for Connecticut’s 5th Congressional District.

But Roberti is not without controversy. His relationships with the state have been tainted by tax troubles and in the past his film production company has raised some eyebrows.

He garnered nearly $140,000 in tax liens on three Connecticut properties between 1995 and 2001. All of those debts have since been repaid.

His film production company, Palisades Media Company, has been accused of pedaling pornography. In 2004, soon after Palisades financed the John Kerry documentary, "Going Upriver," the company became the sole American distributor of "9 Songs," a British film The Guardian called the "most sexually explicit film in the history of mainstream British cinema." The film featured real oral and sex scenes between its two stars and even a scene of ejaculation, according to the New York Daily News.

Roberti’s personal dealings have proven controversial, but GM’s relationship with the Podesta Group has spurred congressional corruption investigations.

The company in 2010 enlisted the services of Tony Podesta, who raised nearly $500,000 for Democrats with his lobbyist wife, Heather, between 2008 and 2010. Podesta’s brother, John, is a major figure in liberal politics, serving in the Clinton administration, co-chairing President Barack Obama’s transition team, and running the Center for American Progress.

The Podesta Group earned $590,000 from General Motors in 2010 and 2011, including major advocacy work on vehicle emissions standards. Podesta met with Obama Regulatory Czar Cass Sunstein on July 21, 2011, just eight days before the administration announced new regulations mandating 54.5 miles-per-gallon cars by 2025.

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R., Calif.) soon initiated an investigation into the meeting to see if the administration developed the policy "in secret" to benefit the government-owned automaker.

"If in fact the CAFE standards are the result of political haggling and not the application of proven science to the laws passed by Congress, then the administration stands in violation" of the Administrative Procedures Act, Issa wrote in an August 2011 letter to the White House. In the letter, Issa noted "The administration’s unusual insistence that auto manufacturers forsake their statutory right to challenge the final rules before they are even drafted."

The New York Times reported that GM "expressed no reservations about the regulatory measure" after the standards had been announced.

A lawyer familiar with the CAFE standards told the Washington Free Beacon that GM’s silence was because it helped design the standards.

"Domestic automakers accepted all of the administration’s demands, including the increased emissions," the lawyer said. "They plotted with the government to impose these strict standards and then push the costs down onto consumers."

Roberti, Podesta, and GM did not return calls for comment.