President Biden has a go-to line in speeches, saying he’s “the most pro-union president you’ve ever seen.” Next year’s Democratic National Convention, though, will be run by an executive of a public affairs firm that is helping companies such as Lyft and Tenet Healthcare fight labor protections.
Last week, Minyon Moore, a principal at public affairs and consulting firm Dewey Square Group (DSG), was announced as the chair of the 2024 Democratic National Convention. As chair, Moore will lead the team of Biden allies planning for the event that will be held in her home city of Chicago.
At DSG, which celebrated her appointment, Moore “leads the State and Local Affairs and Multicultural Strategies practices with clients ranging from the Fortune 100 to startup non-profits seeking counsel for developing strategies that address emerging consumer markets and achieve public policy goals,” wrote the Democratic National Committee (DNC). A longtime party insider, Moore is currently a co-chair of the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee and was CEO of the DNC in 2001.
To solidify its pro-labor image in the presidential race, the Biden-Harris re-election campaign has reached a so-called peace agreement with Chicago unions ahead of the convention. DSG’s roster of corporate clients, however, have led lobbying and public relations campaigns against major labor law reforms that Democrats are sure to invoke again next year. The DNC did not respond to a request for comment on Moore’s state policy consulting, and DSG did not respond to requests for comment on the firm’s corporate clients.
Opposing Gig Worker Protections
Last year, DSG scored a seven-figure payday from its client Lyft as part of a Massachusetts campaign to prevent state lawmakers from classifying gig workers as independent contractors. Then-Attorney General Maura Healey, a Democrat who was elected governor last year, brought a suit against Uber and Lyft in 2020 arguing the companies were violating labor laws by treating drivers as independent contractors and accusing them of “unfair and exploitative practices.”
In response, Lyft and other companies launched a public influence campaign—following the playbook the company had developed with a high-spending California ballot initiative campaign, and a New York lobbying push—supporting a proposed Massachusetts ballot initiative that would classify app-based drivers as independent contractors, among other policies. Lyft contributed $14 million to the state group backing the initiative, in what the Boston Globe called the largest political donation ever in Massachusetts.
The Lyft-funded group, named Flexibility and Benefits for Massachusetts Drivers, paid DSG more than $2.6 million in consulting fees and space rental starting in October 2021, according to data from the Office of Campaign and Political Finance, making DSG one of the group’s top vendors. In addition, DSG served as the middleman for $2.5 million spent by the group on database services with the Democratic Party software NGP/VAN as subvendor. Last summer, a Massachusetts court threw out the measure and prevented it from appearing on ballots—but the group has registered a new committee to put the question in front of voters in 2024.
Also last year, Lyft helped form a trade group, the Flex Association, to stop federal Democrats’ push to reclassify gig workers as employees through provisions in the PRO Act, standing for “Protecting the Right to Organize.” Among other things, the PRO Act would make misclassifying an employee as a contractor a violation under the National Labor Relations Act, and would allow workers and the National Labor Relations Board to determine union election procedures.
The PRO Act passed the Democratic-controlled U.S. House in 2020 and 2021, but was not brought up for a Senate vote. President Biden campaigned on his strong support for the PRO Act and called on Congress to pass it, but the bill, opposed by the powerful U.S. Chamber of Commerce and business groups, was certain to face a Republican filibuster in the Senate and was not advanced out of committee in the 117th Congress, with its narrow Democratic control in the Senate.
Lyft and gig economy companies also unleashed massive spending campaigns over the past few years to block labor laws in California and New York.
A 2019 California law known as AB5 set standards for classifying workers as independent contractors or employees, though parts of the law targeting ride-hailing and delivery companies were overturned by a 2020 ballot measure known as Prop 22 and are the subject of ongoing legal challenges.
To defeat the California law that would enable drivers to join unions, Lyft and gig economy companies shelled out a record-breaking $200 million backing the ballot initiative, then brought a similarly heavy-spending lobbying and donations effort to New York State to head off a potential legislative push from Democrats there. During the first three months of the Biden administration, gig economy companies racked up $1 million in federal lobbying spending to beat back the PRO Act, and last year Lyft and other companies dropped another $1 million on ads opposing the PRO Act.
Lyft’s federal lobbying continues this year on policy matters regarding the classification of independent workers, as well as the “proposed DOL rule regarding independent contractors and nominations,” in its talks with Congress.
The Department of Labor rule mentioned by Lyft is expected to be finalized this year and is similar to the California law that was supported by Julie Su, the Biden administration’s acting secretary of labor, in her stint as a state official. The Flex Association has urged the federal rule be withdrawn and the trade group’s CEO Kristin Sharp came out staunchly against Su’s nomination in a May op-ed.
Lyft’s board includes former Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett, and former Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx previously worked as its chief policy officer. Jeremy Bird, formerly national field director for the Obama-Biden re-election campaign, took over the title of chief policy officer in January 2022.
Other Corporate Clients
McDonald’s is another DSG client displayed on the firm’s website. As of its most recent political disclosure last year, the fast food giant was a member of trade group the National Restaurant Association, which is now leading the battle against a California labor law, the FAST Act, signed last year by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Labor Day. The bill, a top union priority, established a 10-member Fast Food Council to oversee working conditions in fast food chains and lift workers’ wages, now being challenged by a statewide ballot measure expected in November 2024. In the op-ed along with Sharp, the restaurant industry group’s Sean Kennedy, executive vice president of public affairs, mentions Su’s support for the FAST Act and AB5 as driving their opposition to her nomination.
DSG also worked for the National Restaurant Association as it opposed legislation guaranteeing sick leave for workers and the pro-union Employee Free Choice Act. In 2009, DSG was paid $772,110 by the National Restaurant Association, according to The Intercept.
DSG’s client Sony Pictures is a member of trade group the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which is now in a monthslong, high-profile labor dispute with the Writers Guild of America (WGA), actors group SAG-AFTRA, and others. In remarks on May 8, Biden spoke out in support of the writers’ strike. Sony Pictures has recently been lobbying Congress on "Market access issues in foreign markets” and "Intellectual property, market access, and services issues in current and potential trade pacts," issues that could affect residual rates for streaming that are being negotiated in the standoff.
Other DSG clients have been in the business of promoting sugary drinks, methane gas, and corn-subsidized biofuels. During the Obama administration, DSG earned millions of dollars from each of the American Beverage Association (ABA) and the American Natural Gas Alliance, according to tax documents from the trade groups. In 2017, the ABA paid DSG more than $5.7 million in “professional fees.” That same year, DSG received almost $1.2 million from the National Biodiesel Board, and in 2019 and 2021 DSG received another $1.5 million from the biodiesel group for consulting. A 2008 paper in Science found that biofuels, by converting forests and grasslands into farmland, have the effect of increasing greenhouse gas emissions.
Since 2003, a year after Moore joined the firm, DSG has been paid more than $1 million by the DNC for communications, media, and strategic consulting, according to Federal Election Commission data. Another $1 million in disbursements have come from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and campaign committees of Secretary Hillary Clinton, among DSG’s dozens of past party clients. Other DSG principals like Maria Cardona and firm co-founder Charlie Baker have served on top party committees, backing the political goals of the Biden-Harris White House’s political advisers.
DSG’s State Lobbying Clients
In addition to Washington D.C., where Moore is based, DSG keeps offices in Sacramento, St. Louis, and in Boston, where it was founded in 1992 by a trio of political strategists.
Since 2013, DSG has spent nearly $2.5 million for the Tenet Healthcare hospital company in lobbying Massachusetts on “nurse safe staffing requirements” and other issues. The hospital industry has been fighting legislation in the state that has sought to cap the number of patients that nurses can be assigned to at a given time, going back to a bill that passed in 2014 applying a cap for nurses in intensive care units. In 2018, the industry opposed a ballot measure backed by the Massachusetts Nursing Association that would have applied patient limits at various levels across all other medical units in hospitals. The union argued that nurses needed the protection to be able to do their jobs safely and avoid errors that can come with being overworked, but the hospital industry dramatically outspent the nurses’ unions and the measure was defeated.
In 2021 and 2022, Tenet Healthcare was engaged in a ten-month standoff against the nurses’ union at Saint Vincent Hospital in Worcester, which the company owns, as nurses stayed on strike to demand a series of changes including nurse-to-patient ratios. Following the strike, Tenet partnered with the anti-union National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation to attempt to have the union decertified, but the hospital nurses voted in March 2022 to preserve their union.
Last year, Tenet’s trade association memberships included the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the big business group Associated Industries of Florida, whose political committees have contributed more than $2.1 million to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis since he took office. In 2021, Tenet’s trade group contributions included more than a million dollars paid to the American Hospital Association, which that year warned against the PRO Act as posing a “significant adverse impact on hospitals and health systems as employers.”
Other DSG clients in Massachusetts worked against major planks of the Democratic legislative agenda in the previous Congress. In 2021, DSG began lobbying for Molina Healthcare on a senior care program in the state. The Fortune 500 company is a member of healthcare industry lobbying group America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), which during Biden’s first year in office opposed a public health insurance option. The Biden campaign’s pledge to stand up a public option, a policy fleshed out by Biden and Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders in mid-2020 and mentioned in the 2020 party platform, vanished upon Biden taking office.
And while many of DSG’s lobbying clients in Massachusetts and California are focused on renewable energy, this year DSG began work in the Bay State for fossil gas utility Enbridge on “monitoring energy and environmental legislative proposals.” The gas and pipelines company discloses its membership in fossil fuel industry trade groups the American Petroleum Institute and the American Gas Association, which have lobbied against environmentalist efforts to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions roughly in half by 2030, in line with the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate.
A DNC Rules Change
DSG’s Moore and Cardona were re-appointed to the DNC in 2021 as “at-large” members by new Chair Jaime Harrison, and both were tapped to be members of the Rules and Bylaws Committee. Since last year, Moore has been a co-chair of the opaque committee, whose written proceedings are not available online on any official party website and whose members are not listed by the party. (A 2021 roster of the members of some DNC committees can be viewed here, via a DNC member’s blog.)
Last summer, the Rules and Bylaws Committee, which is also headed by James Roosevelt III, put forward 33 amendments to the party’s bylaws, which were approved as a package by DNC members—including a controversial Amendment #16. It reads, “this amendment requires any resolution adopted by the National Convention that amends the Bylaws to be ratified by the National Committee before it becomes effective.” The measure was passed by DNC members without taking a written vote.
Just after the contentious decision, The Intercept reported that party leaders sent text messages pushing at least 100 DNC members to discount their colleagues who were objecting to Amendment 16, calling them a “disruption.” The measure places further power in the hands of around 450 DNC members, many of whom on party committees are appointed by the chair and, like Moore, work as corporate consultants or lobbyists. By requiring ratification by the smaller body of members, it undermines the ability for thousands of convention delegates to approve changes to the party’s bylaws. Many state party leaders, for their part, have little power to propose conflict of interest rules, budget oversight practices, or pro-transparency reforms.
In 2020, several Democratic National Convention delegates told Sludge that the Biden campaign intervened to help sideline an ethics proposal to ban corporate PAC donations and bar corporate lobbyists from serving on the party organization.
Correction, Aug. 16: this post has corrected the total expenditures paid to date by Flexibility and Benefits for Massachusetts Drivers to Dewey Square Group.