Biden to Pick Former Corporate Lobbyist Jaime Harrison for DNC Chair

During the Obama administration, Harrison lobbied for some of the Hill's top spenders, including Big Banks, Big Oil, and a coalition of coal companies that fought climate regulations.

Biden to Pick Former Corporate Lobbyist Jaime Harrison for DNC Chair
Jaime Harrison, then a Democratic U.S. Senate candidate, speaks to supporters at a drive-in rally at the Orangeburg County Fairgrounds on November 2, 2020 in Orangeburg, South Carolina.

President-elect Biden will name Jaime Harrison as his pick for chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), according to reports Thursday morning. Harrison, whose name had been floated in the press as the likeliest favorite of the Biden-Harris campaign for chair, was recently a U.S. Senate candidate in South Carolina. From 2008 to November 2016, Harrison was a principal at corporate lobbying firm the Podesta Group, where his clients included some of the Hill’s top spenders on lobbying. Harrison’s biography on the DNC website describes this period as, “After a few years working in the private sector, Jaime took on his current role as associate chair and counsel of the Democratic National Committee.”

Harrison’s past lobbying clients included Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Wells Fargo, BP America, Bank of America, and many others, according to lobbying disclosures. Harrison had previously worked as floor director and counsel for Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) from 2003 to 2006, before Clyburn became House majority whip in 2007, and he is said to have been put forward for chair in part through Clyburn’s crucial support of Biden’s presidential bid.

With the Podesta Group, Harrison lobbied for large corporations: Boeing, when the company was lobbying on the defense funding bill; Lockheed, when the contractor was also lobbying on defense appropriations; Wells Fargo, when the bank was lobbying on the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill; BP America, when the oil giant was lobbying on a clean energy bill that aimed to reduce global warming; Bank of America, when the company was lobbying on patent reform and derivatives market transparency; and the American Coalition for Clean Coal Energy, when the group was lobbying on renewables and other clean energy topics.

Other clients of Harrison’s after heading through the revolving door include defense contractor General Dynamics, trade association the Council Of Independent Tobacco Manufacturers, hedge fund Fortress Investment Group, Google, General Motors, and Wal-Mart, according to lobbying records. Harrison’s pharmaceutical industry clients include Amgen, Novo Nordisk, and Genzyme, around the crafting of the March 2010 Affordable Care Act, which had little effect on restructuring pricing in the prescription drug industry.

During the Obama administration and while Harrison was lobbying for them, Wells Fargo was hit with a steady stream of penalties for various forms of financial misconduct, such as having to pay $175 million in July 2012 to settle charges that it engaged in a pattern of discrimination against African-American and Hispanic borrowers in its mortgage lending. 

In November 2012, Harrison’s client BP America paid a $525 million settlement for securities fraud related to its Deepwater Horizon oil rig spilling into the Gulf of Mexico. The company had understated the flow rate to the Securities and Exchange Commission. Bank of America also faced a slew of penalties from the Obama administration, such as in August 2009 when it paid $33 million to settle SEC charges regarding more than $5 billion in bonuses that it paid to executives of the failing Merrill Lynch when it acquired the investment firm.

Another of his clients, American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, which represents coal companies like Murray Energy and Peabody Energy, fought against President Obama’s Clean Power plan and other climate-related regulations during the period in which Harrison was registered to lobby for them. In November 2016, Harrison told the Post and Courier about his corporate lobbying, “It’s how I pay back the $160,000 of student loan debt. It’s how I pay the mortgage for my grandmother. And I’m proud of my work…”

Harrison, who served as South Carolina Democratic Party chair from May 2013 to April 2017, is being praised as a pick popular with state Democratic party heads, and is believed to be in favor of allocating more resources to state organizing efforts. In his unsuccessful U.S. Senate campaign, Harrison did invest in down ballot infrastructure and local organizing capacity, Brittany Gibson reported in early November at The American Prospect.

Since Election Day, the incoming Biden-Harris administration has taken a similar top-down communications style as the staff of current Chair Tom Perez, multiple DNC members told Sludge.