James McIntire, the Kelly Services lobbyist, noted the advantage of hiring Hannegan, who is very familiar with the White House. “He was aware of many of the administration’s ideas and then directionally where they were heading,” McIntire said.
Hannegan was also the top lobbyist for a coalition of for-profit colleges, which successfully argued for weaker regulations affecting their industry. The Washington Post Co., which owns Kaplan University, also lobbied on that issue.
Among the lobbyists with close ties to the White House is former New York congressman Tom Downey, who is married to Carol Browner, until last year Obama’s energy czar. Downey is the head of Downey McGrath Group, a lobbying firm whose clients include Time Warner Cable and Herbalife, which sells nutrition and dieting products. He has been to the White House complex for meetings and events 31 times.
Downey declined to be interviewed, but a statement from his office noted that before Browner joined the administration, “he took the extraordinary step of discontinuing work for a client with issues in her purview” and did not sign up new clients in that area during her tenure.
On Dec. 10, 2010, Downey held a meeting with economic adviser Lawrence H. Summers and Bill Cheney, the head of the Credit Union National Association, one of Downey McGrath’s clients. John Magill, the top lobbyist for the association, said that the group was pushing to lift the cap on the percentage of assets its members can lend out. The group asked Downey to request the meeting because he is a well-known Democrat.
“Had it been the Bush administration, we probably would have asked one of our Republican consultants to make the call,” Magill said. “That’s the way it works.”
Downey also visited his wife about 20 times in the two years she worked there, usually signed into the building by her aides. The logs show him attending a raft of social events, including holiday parties, a St. Patrick’s day reception and two senior staff dinners.
Andrew Menter, the chief executive of Vivature Health, said that Downey helped set up a meeting for him in December 2010 with Michael Hash, a top health-policy official. The group discussed how the new health-care law might affect Menter’s business, a Texas-based company that provides billing services for college health programs.
“The whole process was interesting for me. It’s a little scary,” Menter said. “You need a lobbyist to get a meeting.”