Congress

Joe Manchin's Former Aides Lobbied Congress for Oil, Gas and Pharma While He Fought to Shrink Biden's Economic Plans

Elizabeth Frantz | Reuters
  • Sen. Joe Manchin has been working to shrink or eliminate key elements of President Joe Biden's social spending and climate proposal as several of his former advisors lobby Congress.
  • Manchin has at least six former aides and advisors lobbying members of Congress for power players in industries such as coal, pharmaceuticals, oil and gas, tobacco, and finance, according to more than two dozen filings to Congress.
  • One of lobbyists, Jonathan Kott, has said that he has privately called Manchin. The senator has said Larry Puccio, another former advisor currently lobbying the Senate, is a "dear friend."

Sen. Joe Manchin has been working to shrink or eliminate key elements of President Joe Biden and the Democratic Party's massive social spending and climate proposal as several of his former advisors lobby Congress for their corporate clients.

Manchin, the moderate West Virginia Democrat, has at least six former aides and advisors lobbying members of Congress, including senators, for power players in industries such as coal, pharmaceuticals, oil and gas, tobacco, and finance, according to more than two dozen filings to Congress.

The lobbying disclosure reports reviewed by CNBC span the third quarter, which started in July and concluded at the end of September.

Manchin, who is also the chair of the Senate Energy Committee, has been fighting pieces of the now-$1.75 trillion social spending and climate plan that Biden supports. If passed by Congress, many pieces of that plan could significantly impact the companies that his former aides are lobbying for.

Democrats on Tuesday overcame one of their biggest hurdles, as they reached a breakthrough agreement on lowering prescription drug prices.

The lobbying disclosure reports do not say whether Manchin or his office have been directly targeted by his former advisors. Yet one of lobbyists, Jonathan Kott, has said publicly that he has privately called the West Virginia senator. Manchin has said that Larry Puccio, another former advisor currently lobbying the Senate, is a "dear friend."

At least two lobbyists who used to work for Manchin are barred from engaging directly with him or his office, as Senate rules say former staffers must wait a year after leaving a congressional office before lobbying their former colleagues. As long as they didn't hit a certain salary threshold while working in Congress, they are allowed to lobby other members of the Senate.

Neither Manchin's office nor any of the lobbyists mentioned in this story returned requests for comment before publication.

Kott, Manchin's senior advisor and communications director for seven years, now works for lobbying giant Capitol Counsel. Kott started lobbying for gas giant ExxonMobil in the third quarter after he was hired by Capitol Counsel in June 2021, according to lobbying disclosures.

Kott and his colleagues at the firm were paid $10,000 by Exxon to lobby the House and Senate, which included activities such as "monitoring legislation impacting energy development and production" and lobbying on "issues related to tax reform, energy taxes and taxation of U.S. multinational corporations."

Kott has said he knows how to get in touch with Manchin. "I try not to call him because he's a busy man but I know he's available when needed," Kott told The Washington Post in September.

Exxon's lobbying efforts against Biden's agenda have included a more than $275,000 Facebook ad campaign targeting tax hikes Democrats have proposed. Exxon's CEO Darren Woods told progressive House lawmaker Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., during a recent hearing that he has participated in calls with members of Congress as lawmakers put together a spending bill that includes $550 billion to fight climate change, as well as their separate $1 trillion infrastructure bill.

Kott and the firm that employs him also was paid $50,000 in the third quarter to lobby Congress by the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, a trade association "representing the makers of the fuels that keep Americans moving and the petrochemicals that are the essential building blocks for modern life," according to their website. The group's board of directors includes representatives from many of the top oil and gas giants, including ExxonMobil, Chevron, BASF and Dow Inc.

Patrick Hayes, a partner at Kountoupes Denham Carr & Reid, was once Manchin's chief of staff. He has has been lobbying for a mix of clean energy companies and the ​Industrial Minerals Association, which according to its website is a "premier trade association representing the interests of North American companies that mine or process the industrial minerals."

The mining trade association paid Hayes and his team $30,000 to lobby on issues related to the coronavirus pandemic and the ongoing budget disputes, among other items.

Some of the solar and clean energy companies – including Breakthrough Technologies, which was founded by tech billionaire Bill Gates – had Hayes lobby Congress on the Democrats infrastructure bill, according to third quarter filings.

Puccio, who was once Manchin's chief of staff when he was governor of West Virginia, registered to lobby at the federal level in February.

One of his more recent clients is Sandy Bay Partners, an investment management firm based in Florida. "We manage and sponsor investment programs focused on private equity and real estate development," their LinkedIn page says.

In the third quarter, Puccio was paid $10,000 by Sandy Bay to specifically lobby the Senate on "conservation easements," according to the third quarter disclosure. Puccio was also paid $75,000 over the past few months to lobby for the Appalachian Natural Gas Operators Coalition, which is described on a lobbying registration report as a West Virginia company that focuses on "oil and natural gas."

The report says that in the third quarter Puccio lobbied the Senate and Biden's Department of Energy on "energy infrastructure, proposed taxes and fees related to energy production."

Puccio has been close to Manchin for years. In a 2020 interview with a local news outlet in West Virginia, the longtime lobbyist discussed their friendship.

"Joe and I are very close. I think the world of Joe. I hope you print that. I've always been supportive of Joe Manchin. Joe knows me and I know Joe," Puccio said at the time.

Thomas J. Lucas, who became a vice president at Crossroads Strategies this year after working in Manchin's office for the past six years, lobbied lawmakers for two massive pharmaceutical firms and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, a trade group that represents the pharmaceutical industry.

For the drugmaker Merck, Lucas and his team lobbied lawmakers on a variety of issues in the third quarter including those "related to health care, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), 340B Program, drug pricing, importation of biopharmaceuticals, international pharmaceutical supply chain," according to the latest disclosure report. Crossroads Strategies was paid $40,000 for their most recent work for Merck.

Drugmaker Bristol-Myers Squibb paid $40,000 for Lucas and his colleagues to lobby on similar issues last quarter. PhRMA, the trade association, invested $60,000 for their lobbying services.

Elliot Howard, who worked for Manchin on the Senate Energy Committee, joined Massie Partners earlier this year. He lobbied the House and Senate in the third quarter for a several corporate giants including oil and gas behemoth BP, Colonial Pipeline, NRG Energy and Magellan Midstream Partners.

Howard's work helped bring in over $150,000 for Massie Partners.

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