Politics

The Biden advisor's lobbyist brother is thought for deep connections and tries to keep away from potential conflicts

The lobbyist brother of one of President-elect Joe Biden's top advisors has made a name for himself for his deep connections in DC and for decades of experience serving corporate clients.

Some of Jeff Ricchetti's former employees and clients also said he had turned down requests to lobby his brother, longtime Biden aide and new White House advisor Steve Ricchetti.

CNBC spoke to several people who worked with Jeff Ricchetti for insights into how he might go into the new year to influence lawmakers.

These discussions also provide insight into how Jeff Ricchetti could handle and potentially avoid potential conflicts of interest during in-depth administration.

CNBC reached out to Ricchetti on Wednesday. He did not return a request for comment on this story. A spokesman for the Biden transition team also did not return a request for comment.

In 2020, according to the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics, Jeff Ricchetti had its largest client base since 2014. The surge in clients came when Biden won the Democratic primary and eventually defeated President Donald Trump in the general election.

Biden later named Steve Ricchetti, who was also the former Vice President's campaign chairman, as his adviser to the White House. Jeff Ricchetti has signed nearly a dozen contracts this year and received lobbying fees of at least $ 635,000. Amazon is one of its newest customers, as CNBC first reported. Others are Horizon Therapeutics, Evofem Biosciences, Finseca, GlaxoSmithKline, and Applied Materials.

People who know Jeff Ricchetti say he's pushing back customers seeking access to his brother. However, his staff also noted that customers will likely still get in touch with the Biden team.

"That doesn't mean potential customers won't come to see him partly because of his brother," said a lobbyist who has known Jeff Ricchetti for nearly a decade. "But he's a professional and knows how to work properly." This person declined to be named in order to speak freely.

A person familiar with the brothers' relationship previously told CNBC that Jeff Ricchetti would never lobby Steve Ricchetti and that the two would keep their professional lives separate.

Before opening his own company, Ricchetti Inc., Jeff Ricchetti worked with Tony Podesta in the late 1990s. Steve and Jeff Ricchetti founded their company of the same name in the early 2000s.

Podesta told CNBC in an email that Ricchetti was recognized as a talented and strategic lobbyist while working there for a number of years. Podesta, the brother of former Clinton White House Chief of Staff John Podesta, was once known as the kingmaker of the Democratic Party and a major corporate lobbyist. Steve Ricchetti also served in the Clinton administration and later with Biden during President Barack Obama's tenure as President. Steve Ricchetti was signed off as a lobbyist in 2008.

"He does things," said Podesta. "Very talented, hard-working, strategic, easy-going, content." As a lobbyist for Podesta's company, Ricchetti represented companies such as Dow Chemical, Eli Lilly, Novartis, eBay and Roche Holdings.

Marc Cadin, the CEO of the professional association Finseca, told CNBC that he has known Ricchetti for almost 20 years. One of the bills that Ricchetti and other members of Cadin's team hired Congress on was Trump's 2017 tax reform bill.

"Most notably, we applied a 199A deduction to life insurance companies to give our members a significant tax break there," said Cadin, discussing Ricchetti's recent efforts for Finseca, which has over 6,000 members.

The Internal Revenue Service calls this deduction a qualified business income deduction. "The deduction allows eligible taxpayers to deduct up to 20 percent of their qualifying business income as well as 20 percent of qualifying dividends from the real estate investment trust and income from qualifying publicly traded partnerships," the IRS website says.

Cadin, who described Ricchetti as a lobbyist with extensive expertise in tax policy, expects him to lobby for the new Congress and possibly the finance department for Finseca from 2021.

"We have some problems in and around the finance department. I can see how he is doing there," said Cadin.

He also said that, in his experience, the Ricchetti brothers always found a way not to transgress ethical boundaries. "These people know how to do it right and how not to push boundaries," he said.

He was hired by some of Jeff Ricchetti's recent clients to secure the support of moderate lawmakers on progressive tax policy proposals. Biden has proposed raising taxes for the rich and corporations.

Chuck Collins, a member of the advisory board of the Patriotic Millionaires Advocacy Group, told CNBC that his organization hired Ricchetti in 2020 to get support from moderate Democrats in both the House and Senate for what is listed on the group's website "Draft Law to Promote Emergencies" is called.

In an open letter to the leaders of Congress, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., And Senate Minority Chairman Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., the group urged Congress to pass emergency relief legislation to be included in an aid package for coronaviruses. The letter said the legislation would "double the Foundation's mandatory annual payout from five to ten percent over the next three years and require the same ten percent payout obligation for donor advised funds (DAFs)."

The Charity Act campaign was run by the Patriotic Millionaires, Wallace Global Foundation, Voices for Progress, the Institute for Political Studies – Inequality Program, Solidaire Network, and Edge Funders Network.

Collins, the great-grandson of meat packer Oscar Mayer, told CNBC that he has known Ricchetti for over a decade. The group selected him for the project, Collins said, not because of his connections with his brother, but because of his deep insight into current and past policy makers in Washington.

"I think he has a good internal compass of what is working and what obstacles you are going to encounter and whether to waste your time," said Collins.

A Patriotic Millionaires spokesman did not return a request for comment.

Frank Clemente, executive director of Americans for Tax Fairness, a project by a progressive nonprofit called New Venture Fund, said the organization hired Ricchetti in late 2019 to help drive support for a "millionaire surcharge tax". Similar to his efforts for the patriotic millionaires, Clemente said Ricchetti had opposed moderate democratic lawmakers in the house.

"We just felt like he brought something that we didn't have on the table. He brings connections," said Clemente.

The Americans for Tax Fairness website is promoting the additional tax as "a 10% surcharge on income over $ 2 million could raise $ 635 billion over 10 years." Senator Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., And MP Don Beyer presented the proposal to Congress in November 2019. Democrats running for president, including billionaire Mike Bloomberg, and Senator Elizabeth Warren D-Mass., Also supported similar proposals for concepts.

When Biden ran for president, Clemente said he tried to get Ricchetti to push the Biden campaign to support the surcharge, but the longtime lobbyist declined.

"I think I asked him, 'Can you help me with your brother?' But it was always very clear – this was never a place to go," said Clemente.

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