Friends in High Places
David Axelrod's old firm is getting lots of business from health-care-advocacy groups.


Robert Costa

It’s good to be David Axelrod.

Axelrod, senior adviser to President Obama, left
AKPD, the powerful Chicago-based media-consulting firm he founded, late last year for the West Wing. Why leave the private sector for a gig with the federal government? Why not? Axelrod could afford the downgrade. In 2008, ABC News reports, AKPD pocketed millions for its work on the Obama presidential campaign. Now, Politico reports, AKPD owes Axelrod $2 million more. He shouldn’t worry about getting his cash.

In fact, he’ll be mailed a hefty check
quite soon. Over the next four years, according to his personal financial report, Axelrod will receive regular payments, starting with $350,000 on December 31. Of course, those payouts to the old boss won’t make much of a dent in AKPD’s checkbook. Its business is booming.

According to a Bloomberg report, AKPD and GMMB — a firm founded by Jim Margolis, another former Obama strategist — have received $12 million in advertising business from lobbying groups working with the White House to pass health-care reform legislation. Altogether, according to AP, interest groups working with the Obama team have ladled $24 million into consultants’ coffers.

Maybe someone should e-mail [email protected] Axelrod’s former firm
, it turns out, was hired by umbrella organizations with deep Obama ties — Americans for Stable Quality Care (ASQC) and its predecessor, Healthy Economy Now (HEN). The former’s spokesman, Phil Singer, tells NRO that hiring AKPD and GMMB was a “no-brainer,” since they’re “among the best in the business.” You be the judge. Here’s the latest ad from ASQC.

Here’s another commercial that ran this summer, sponsored by HEN.

One wonders wh
ether the health-care industry groups that paid for these clips are asking why the Democratic operatives pooling their money to make ad buys gave millions to a firm effectively in debt to a senior White House staffer. The leader of one advocacy group directly involved admitted that, “given the way this has unfolded, having that information about [Axelrod] to consider upfront would have been helpful.” Others aren’t so worried.

ASQC, as Mike Allen of
Politico reports, is largely funded by the pharmaceutical industry, though it also includes a hodgepodge of other groups, including the American Medical Association, FamiliesUSA, and SEIU, the service employees union.

PhRMA, the group representing pharmaceutical companies, struck an
$80 billion deal this summer with the Obama White House to support health-care reform. (What PhRMA received in return remains an area of intense speculation.) It is also the key member of ASQC. Part of its deal, reports the New York Times, involved PhRMA authorizing its lobbyists to spend as much as $150 million on television commercials supporting Obama’s plan. The millions already spent this summer are just the start. With its cozy relationships with senior Obama officials, AKPD executives only stand to gain.

Axelrod, of course, says the White House
has nothing to do with this sudden good fortune for his former firm. Ben LaBolt, a White House spokesman, says that Axelrod has had no communications with any of the advocacy groups paying AKPD and that AKPD’s payments to Axelrod have nothing to do with the fresh pile of dough from the firms new ad contracts. LaBolt also told AP that Axelrod’s son, an AKPD employee, doesn’t “stand to benefit” from the millions currently being poured into promoting Obamacare. Even so, Ken Johnson, PhRMA’s senior vice president, says, We could do without the distraction right now, although he adds that PhRMA is “not unhappy with the work” done by ASQC and HEN.

Just because PhRMA is content with the Axelrod
/ASQC/AKPD connection doesn’t mean it’s kosher. Michael Steel, an adviser to House Republican leader John Boehner, says that “in this situation, the burden of proof is on the White House. What steps have they taken to ensure that the President’s chief political operative is free from a conflict of interest?”


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