Biden Adviser’s Lobbying Firm Is Undermining Democratic Party Priorities

Senior Biden White House adviser Anita Dunn recently reported her personal finances in a 93-page disclosure revealing an investment portfolio worth as much as $48.2 million and a list of more than a dozen clients representing the heights of corporate power, including AT&T, Lyft, and Pfizer. Dunn was a co-founder and advisor to former president Barack Obama and the Biden presidential campaign. Prior to Dunn’s current position, which requires financial disclosure, Dunn was a close adviser to former president Barack Obama as well as the Biden administration. loophole exempting temporary employees from disclosure by classifying her as a “special government employee” during stints in the Biden White House in 2021 and early 2022.

Dunn, now senior adviser to the president will have to liquidate her multi-million pound stock portfolio and abstain from any issues affecting her former clients. However, Dunn’s long client list and financial ties to corporations at the center of the most important policy debates in the US — including the fossil fuel, financial, healthcare, and technology sectors — prompted watchdog organization the Revolving Door Project to ask: “What the hell is Anita Dunn even allowed to work on?”

Following Dunn’s financial disclosure and the Biden administration’s pledge that Dunn would recuse herself from work that could create a conflict of interest, Revolving Door Project Director Jeff Hauser noted how SKDKnickerbocker’s Democratic Party ties aid its work for corporate clients. In Revolving Door Project’s August 12, 2022 statement, Hauser said: “Whenever a corporation is in serious danger of new regulations or prosecutions by a Democratic administration, they start cutting checks to SKDKnickerbocker, which sets its star players to work neutralizing the threat.”

This dynamic can be seen in SKDKnickerbocker’s work in New York State, where Democrats control both legislative houses as well as the governor’s office. SKDK operates front groups in New York that are funded by millions of dollars. These front groups represent corporations that are directly opposed to Democratic Party priorities on climate, labor rights and housing justice.

In addition to raising the question of what Anita Dunn can reasonably work on without creating a conflict of interest, SKDK’s corporate advocacy in New York raises a deeper question: How can the Democratic Party credibly claim to prioritize climate, labor, and housing issues while being advised at the highest level by the leader of a firm actively working against the party’s ostensible goals?

Opposing Workers’ Rights

December 2020 we reported on efforts by gig work companies — led by app-based taxi corporations Uber and Lyft — to pass a law in New York misclassifying workers as independent contractors rather than employees and thus entitling gig workers to a lower standard of workplace protections.

In addition to multi-million dollar lobbying and Super PAC expenditures, this campaign entailed the operation of a front group, then called Flexible Work for New York, masquerading as a grassroots coalition supporting gig work companies’ position. Flexible Work for New York was enlisted as part of its efforts. religious leadersTo pressure legislators across the state not to grant labor protections for gig workers.

Lobbying for Flexible Work for New York State. SKDKnickerbocker ran the group for Uber and Lyft. “on a pro bono basis,” suggesting that SKDK’s lobbying was an incidental part of a larger paid public relations effort.

Defending Big Landlords

In April 2022 we reported a multi-year, multi-million dollar effort by lobbying groups representing large New York City landlords to fight against expanding tenants’ rights and to preserve lucrative development subsidies. Similar to the gig work companies campaign, this campaign involved millions of dollars in political donations and Super PAC attack advertisements, an army lobbyists from large New York City landlords, and a front group run by SKDKnickerbocker.

Taxpayers for an Affordable New York emerged in 2019 when the New York State legislature, newly controlled Democrats, was considering a package of bills advanced by housing justice activists to expand tenants’ rights against eviction and to allow for municipalities across the state to establish rent controls. Taxpayers For an Affordable New York was supported by the Real Estate Board of New York (the Rent Stabilization Association and the Community Housing Improvement Program), three lobbying groups representing thousands of property owners in New York City worth millions of dollars.

Lobbying filings indicated that Taxpayers to an Affordable New York paid $2.8million to SKDKnickerbocker in January through August 2019, the last year the group had been active.

Obstructing Climate Action

In May 2022 we wrote about a front group backed by utility and fossil fuel corporations to frustrate New York’s efforts to mitigate climate change mandated by the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act.

This group’s name, New Yorkers for Affordable Energy, bears a striking similarity to the front group for New York City landlords. It is managed by the American Petroleum Institute, Enbridge and Williams Companies as well as National Fuel and National Grid, which are both electric and gas utilities. The statewide and regional chambers, as well as the operators of fossil fuel power stations, are also backers.

New Yorkers for Affordable Energy is lobbying against a proposed ban on new gas hookups in New York, against a proposal tax polluters to finance climate mitigation efforts, as well as against a bill that would require all new passenger cars and trucks sold here to be emission-free by 2035.

New Yorkers for Affordable Energies has a similar initiative. coordinated efforts with the state Republican PartyTo dampen climate action, mobilize people and submit comments against climate action at the Climate Action Council. This is the public body charged with implementing Climate and Community Protection Act.

Like the Flexible Work for New York front group, New Yorkers for Affordable Energy’s lobbying filings indicated that SKDKnickerbocker is lobbying for the group “on a pro bono basis,” which, again, likely means that the firm’s lobbying work is part of a larger public relations contract.

SKDKnickerbocker’s broad range of public relations and political influence activities includes the operation of front groups. It is a very dangerous tactic because it misrepresents an extractive corporate agenda as a grassroots movement. These examples show that SKDKnickerbocker made millions of dollars by running this strategy over and again to fight for labor rights for gig workers, protections of tenants, and regulation of climate-changing carbon emission. This work on behalf of corporate clients in the midst of the interconnected crises of housing affordability, climate change, and labor exploitation — and particularly the deception at its core — raises serious concerns about SKDK co-founder Anita Dunn’s influence over the Biden White House.