Kimberly Fritts, has resigned and announced no more paychecks from the Podesta Group after Tony, the founder stepped down. Fleeing to other corners, other lobby groups are cherry picking to hire former Podesta Group employees.
Podesta Group Unravels as CEO Plans to Take Clients to New Firm
Less than two weeks after Democratic mega-lobbyist Tony Podesta stepped down from his firm amid questions over its foreign work, one of Washington’s most prominent lobbying shops is unraveling as its employees try to reconstitute under new leadership.
Chief Executive Officer Kimberly Fritts told employees Thursday afternoon she is working on launching a new firm that would take many of Podesta’s staff and clients with her, said two people familiar with the meeting. She told employees they shouldn’t expect a paycheck past Nov. 15, the people said.
It was not an entirely unexpected moment for the 30-year-old firm after Podesta’s sudden resignation Oct. 31, when he announced he was stepping down following an indictment issued against Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort by U.S. Justice Department Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
The charges detailed Manafort’s clandestine influence campaign on behalf of Ukraine’s deposed president Viktor Yanukovych, including work with two unidentified companies that “lobbied multiple members of Congress and their staff about Ukraine sanctions, the validity of Ukraine elections, and the propriety of Yanukovych’s imprisoning his presidential rival.”
Mueller’s indictment identified the firms as Company A and Company B and said they were allegedly paid by Manafort with more than $2 million in offshore funds. A person familiar with the matter confirmed that Company B is the Podesta Group, which disclosed in April that it had worked for the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine. Company A is Mercury Public Affairs LLC, said another person familiar with the matter.
The Podesta Group represents some of the the world’ biggest companies, including Alphabet Inc.’s Google, Altria Group Inc., Wells Fargo & Co., Lockheed Martin Corp., Pfizer Inc. and other representatives of some of the most active industries in Washington.
Podesta’s next steps were not discussed at the meeting, one person said. A spokeswoman for Tony Podesta and the Podesta Group declined to comment.
Podesta is the brother of John Podesta, the chairman of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, who also served as White House chief of staff under President Bill Clinton and was counselor to Barack Obama.
Kimberley Fritts, the longtime chief executive of the Podesta Group, is leaving the firm to start her own lobbying shop, according to three Podesta Group staffers.
Paul Brathwaite, a Podesta Group principal, said last week that he was leaving to start his own shop, Federal Street Strategies.
Rival lobbying firms, meanwhile, see this is a prime moment to poach the Podesta Group’s top lobbyists. At least six other firms have reached out to Podesta Group staffers about leaving since Tony Podesta stepped down. More here.
*** It must be chaos as there are contracts with countless companies, organizations and foreign entities that must be either cancelled or completed under a new process. According to Open Secrets, the Podesta group has $15,780,000 in lobby income for 2017.
Tony Podesta’s lavish art collection is coming down off the walls at the Podesta Group, as the lobbying firm — among the largest and most powerful in Washington — prepares to close up shop.
Workers started removing dozens of pieces in Podesta’s collection of photography and other artworks from the walls of the firm on Thursday, the same day Kimberley Fritts, the firm’s longtime chief executive, abruptly resigned, according to a Podesta Group staffer.
“The firm as it existed is essentially over,” one Podesta Group staffer said. “The vast majority of people are going their own way.”
At an emotional staff meeting late Thursday afternoon, Fritts told staffers they could clear out their offices and said that Wednesday might be their last payday.
“We will try to compensate you on the 30th, but we can’t make any promises,” Fritts said, according to one staffer who was in the meeting.
Fritts had been expected to relaunch the Podesta Group under a new name in the days after Podesta stepped down. But she instead announced in the meeting on Thursday that she was leaving to start her own firm after negotiations with Podesta broke down. Her last day was Friday, according to Podesta Group staffers.
Fritts is now hustling to find new office space and get her new firm off the ground. Staffers, meanwhile, are struggling to figure out what will happen to the Podesta Group with Fritts gone and Podesta — an outsized presence in Washington known for his flamboyant ties and ubiquity at Democratic fundraisers — nowhere to be found.
Staffers are wondering why a firm that brought in $24 million last year suddenly can’t pay their salaries, and why Podesta and Fritts were unable to strike a deal to transfer ownership of the firm.
“There’s a lot of anger at Tony because of that,” one Podesta Group staffer said.
Some Podesta Group lobbyists are now planning to join Fritts at her new firm, which The New York Times reported on Friday would be named Cogent Strategies.
Others are considering joining rival lobbying firms or starting their own shops. One lobbyist, Paul Brathwaite, sent a note to clients last week announcing he was starting his own firm, Federal Street Strategies. More here.