Ivan Adler was quoted in Politico about the increasing wave of corporate CEOs approaching the Hill.
By Anna Palmer | May 25, 2013
Once it might have taken a subpoena to get a CEO to participate in the public shame ritual of a televised Senate hearing.
This week Apple CEO Tim Cook volunteered.
That’s how much CEO attitudes have changed about playing the Washington game – going well beyond just hiring lobby shops, to pushing for their companies’ interests personally and putting their own reputations on the line.
The high-profile examples run the gamut: from Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg — who attached his name to immigration reform this year along with a slew of Silicon Valley execs — to JPMorgan Chase’s Jamie Dimon, who’s had a high-profile, if on-again-off-again, relationship with Washington.
Others come to town with less fanfare. Goldman Sachs President and Chief Operating Officer Gary Cohn made the trek up to Capitol Hill in November to meet with House Financial Services Chairman Jeb Hensarling of Texas and other Republicans as the fight over debt and spending flared.
President Barack Obama, who has struggled to win over the business community, has hosted CEOs regularly in his second term. Yahoo’s Marissa Meyer and Goldman Sachs’ Lloyd Blankfein met with Obama in February to talk immigration and debt. In May, energy leaders, including Edison Electric Institute President Tom Kuhn, met with Obama privately to discuss the industry’s response to mega storms.
Executives say the reason for their change is simple: the stakes have gotten higher.
Just look at the range of big policy questions on Washington’s plate from debt and spending, to the tax code, to health care and immigration.
Paul Stebbins, executive chairman of World Fuel Services, a Fortune 100 company, told POLITICO that the long-term debt outlook has been a key factor.
“I think this has changed the sensibility of how CEOs engage in the process,” said Stebbins, who is a member of the CEO-group Fix the Debt. “This goes far beyond my K Street lobbyist is going to help me get some tax thing. It’s a much deeper issue about the future of the country.”
“This isn’t a short-term, ‘we’ll be done by September.’ This is long term,” he said of how CEOs will continue to engage in Washington.
In Apple’s case, the tech giant is positioning itself ahead of another possible fight — a tax code overhaul.
Cook appeared before a Senate panel this week where he tried to turn allegations that the tech giant doesn’t pay enough taxes into a discussion about the need for big changes in the system.
Democrats, including President Obama, and Republicans have said for years the tax code needs to change, though it’s unclear if that’ll happen soon.
“Increasingly CEOs are seeing the need to get engaged because the government more often than not is a business partner that can affect their bottom line positively, or negatively,” said Nick Calio, a Washington veteran who now heads the trade group Airlines for America.
Former Sen. Gordon Smith, now head of the National Association of Broadcasters, said CEOs are involved in Washington because government has a big impact on the cost of doing business in regards to labor, energy and raw materials.
“The government policy overlays all of those in very dramatic ways now,” Smith said.
CEOs have also been welcomed with open arms by political leaders looking to take on major issues like immigration reform, tax policy and the deficit and debt.
The Obama administration has brought business leaders into the White House repeatedly in his second term on issues like cyber security, immigration and the economy.
Earlier this month Obama met privately with energy CEOs in preparation for hurricane season. Attendees included: Tony Alexander of FirstEnergy, Chris Crane of Exelon, Lew Hay of NextEra Energy and Joe Rigby of Pepco.
He also huddled in April with Wall Street execs in an effort to sell them on his fiscal policy plans. That group included Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan’s Dimon, Brian Moynihan of Bank of America, John Stumpf of Wells Fargo, among others.
There is also an increasing expectation from shareholders that the c-suite play an active role in regulatory and policy debates studies have found.
CEOs are also getting more active in their trade associations and in hiring decisions of their in-house lobbying team.
“I think there’s more to lose now than there has been in the past,” said Ivan Adler, a headhunter with the McCormick Group. “So losing a big legislative fight has more of an impact on the bottom line than it did in the past, and therefore there’s a higher cost for failure.”
Republican and Democratic lawmakers have also noticed the increased executive activity in Washington