Media Turn a Blind Eye to Jaime Harrison’s Lobbying Work

POLITICS & POLICY
Jaime Harrison speaks during a Democratic National Committee forum in Baltimore, Md., in 2017. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

The Washington Post ignores the role that Harrison’s lobbying career has played in aiding his political rise.

Jaime Harrison is closing in on Lindsey Graham in South Carolina and is being helped along by the mainstream political media’s bizarre insistence on ignoring his past as Washington lobbyist.

Harrison began the race as a long shot. But in recent months, the polling has tightened, with the non-partisan electoral analysts at the Cook Political Report moving the race this week to its “toss up” category, prompting a Thursday piece from the Washington Post’s Paul Kane to explain the race.

Kane framed the piece around Harrison’s efforts “to forge a new coalition” that would rely on high African-American turnout bolstered by anti-Trump Republicans and suburban moderates. To illustrate the way in which electoral dynamics have shifted in the Palmetto State, Kane led with the story of Richard N. Wilkerson, the former Michelin North America CEO who abandoned his years-long support for Graham and began publicly voicing his support for Harrison.

“So ended Wilkerson’s more than a decade of support for Graham. And Harrison’s campaign is no longer considered a fluke,” according to Kane.

Kane’s framing of Wilkerson’s shift from Republican donor to Democratic booster aided his friendly analysis of Harrison’s strength as a candidate while ignoring the role of Harrison’s past lobbying work in securing Wilkerson’s backing.

Wilkerson “chose to endorse Democrat Jaime Harrison because of his experience working with him while Harrison lobbied on the company’s behalf in Washington, D.C.,” the Post and Courier explained in their initial coverage of Wilkerson’s turn toward Harrison in April.

As a lobbyist at the infamous and now-defunct Podesta group, Harrison “advocated for some of Michelin’s legislative priorities, including dredging the Port of Charleston and creating new tire manufacturing standards to improve fuel efficiency and lower greenhouse gas emissions,” the report reads.

Kane’s coverage in the Washington Post, however, made no mention of this key detail in explaining why Wilkerson would endorse Harrison over Graham, and only briefly mentions Harrison’s past career to describe his background as “a veteran Washington insider.”

The Podesta group, once one of the biggest and most influential K-Street outfits in Washington, folded in 2017 after its clients fled in droves in response to a Justice Department investigation into the outfit for its foreign lobbying practices, including work in Ukraine with former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort.

According to his tax returns, the 44-year-old Harrison was quite successful during his tenure at Podesta, earning a total of $1.6 million from 2012 to 2016. His past clients include big coal and tobacco companies, as well as big banks . Harrison’s current campaign has also received tens of thousands in donations from fellow lobbyists.

One would think that Harrison’s history of influence peddling on behalf of the same corporations that Democrats routinely vilify would make him a prime target for oppositional media coverage — and it did, when he was running against fellow Democrat and anti-lobbying advocate Keith Ellison for the Democratic National Committee chairmanship in 2017. That year, left-leaning outlets like HuffPost and Vox scrutinized his career and his ties to ethically dubious firms. But now, facing Lindsey Graham in a tight race, those same outlets have chosen to practically ignore Harrison’s record.

The lack of media scrutiny has allowed Harrison to frame his lobbying career as proof of his commitment to South Carolina. “During Jaime’s time in the private sector, he worked with some of South Carolina’s largest employers, such as Boeing, Michelin, the South Carolina Ports Authority and the University of South Carolina, to create and protect jobs,” a campaign spokesperson told Politico.

Mainstream political media outlets that typically delight in exposing careers like Harrison’s have largely abstained from poking holes in the sunny narrative he’s spun up around his lobbying work.

A Washington Post story on the race published last month only mentioned Harrison’s lobbying career in the context of Graham releasing an ad attacking it. A December 2019 Post profile of Harrison reported that he had worked at the Podesta group and lobbied for “Walmart as well as the South Carolina Ports Authority,” but didn’t delve any deeper.

Perhaps if Harrison was a Republican, things would be different. Take the campaign of former Virginia gubernatorial Republican candidate Ed Gillespie, for example. A 2017 investigations piece in the Post titled “Ed Gillespie’s lobbying career included work for firms with vast interests in Virginia” took a hard look at the politician’s former lobbying career, and how it might impact his future plans.

“If he is elected governor, Gillespie would face decisions in which the public’s interests may conflict with the interests of companies that have paid his firms millions of dollars collectively for lobbying and consulting services — and that could hire him again,” Beth Reinhard reported.

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