A former Democratic senator is joining a prominent Washington lobbying shop after receiving thousands in campaign contributions from the firm and authoring legislation that advanced the international trade agenda of one of its foreign government clients.
The Hill reported on Monday that the D.C. lobbying giant Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld has hired former Sen. Kay Hagan (D., N.C.), who lost her seat in 2014 despite running of the most expensive campaigns in the country.
During the last congressional session of her tenure, Hagan’s staff frequently communicated with Akin Gump, public records show. A short time later, the senator introduced legislation that advanced the U.S. policy agenda of the Nicaraguan government, an Akin Gump client.
The legislation extended favorable import tax treatment for Central American textile companies, allowing them to use inputs from countries not party to the Central American Free Trade Agreement.
Provisions regarding non-CAFTA country inputs were of particular importance to Nicaragua’s textile industry, which at the time struggled to compete with other countries party to the free trade deal.
In 2011, the Nicaraguan government ramped up its Washington lobbying efforts in an attempt to extend CAFTA’s favorable treatment of Central American textile products.
Nicaragua’s Comisión Nacional de Zonas Francas, the government’s export promotion agency, hired Akin Gump in late 2011 to mount an "aggressive lobbying" campaign aimed at pushing legislators and administration officials to extend CAFTA textile preferences.
The firm had a pre-existing relationship with Hagan, who would eventually be a key ally in the firm’s work on Nicaragua’s behalf. Akin Gump’s political action committee hosted a 2011 fundraiser for the North Carolina Democrat.
Akin Gump began working with Hagan’s staff on the Nicaraguan agency’s behalf in 2013, according to Foreign Agent Registration Act documents filed with the Justice Department’s national security division.
Akin Gump representatives met and emailed with Josh Teitelbaum, a member of Hagan’s legislative staff, in June 2013 to discuss legislation authored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) to extend favorable tariff treatment for Nicaraguan textiles.
In September, they began discussing the issue more generally. Akin Gump staff emailed Tietelbaum numerous times in August and September to "discuss [a] possible extension of Nicaragua textile program," according to the firm’s FARA filings.
As it lobbied Hagan’s office on the issue, Akin Gump was also donating to her reelection campaign. The firm’s political action committee reported three contributions to Hagan totaling nearly $3,000 during the 2014 cycle.
Akin Gump employees donated another $17,300.
In December 2013, two months after the PAC wrote her campaign a $1,200 check, Hagan introduced legislation to extend trade preferences for Nicaraguan textiles. The bill required the use of American inputs, but allowed the continued use of foreign products from non-CAFTA countries.
Hagan was unseated before the legislation received even a committee vote.
Akin Gump’s press release on Hagan’s hire did not mention her work on Nicaraguan trade preferences.
"We are very pleased to welcome to our team someone with such a rich history in both the public and private sector," said Donald Pongrace, an Akin Gump executive and Hagan donor, in a statement. "Her firsthand experience with many crucial, timely policy issues will make her a tremendous asset, both within the firm and for our clients."
"Coming here feels like a very natural fit, and I am looking forward to the opportunity to work with such an established and well-regarded team," Hagan said in the release.
The cozy relationship between Hagan and her new employer is in stark contrast to the former senator’s rhetoric in office and on the campaign trail.
"People are sick and tired of ineffective politicians like Elizabeth Dole who spend too much time taking care of special interests and their lobbyists," Hagan said during her successful 2008 bid to unseat Dole, the former Republican senator.
"We need change in North Carolina and in the U.S.," Hagan declared during her initial Senate run. "I think politicians like Elizabeth Dole are ineffective because they are so tied into the special interests and the lobbyists."