White House

Team Obama Cashing Out

The president might be having a tough time but his staff is still landing well.

Stephanie Cutter gives an interview during day one of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 4, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina.
National Journal
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James Oliphant
Dec. 23, 2013, 11 a.m.

The West Wing is more in flux than usu­al. John Podesta’s in as the new Fix­er. Phil Schiliro is back to mend fences with Con­gress. Long­time Obama con­sigliere Pete Rouse is leav­ing. Re­ports have oth­er White House vets delay­ing their de­par­tures un­til the ship feels righted.

But those de­par­tures will come — and likely soon­er rather than later. And if their pre­de­cessors are any in­dic­a­tion, the next wave of aides to jump will be able to lever­age their ex­per­i­ence and con­tacts in­to luc­rat­ive way private sec­tor gigs.

Here’s a look at ex-Obama aides who have done well by their work with the pres­id­ent.

Dav­id Axel­rod

Old gig: Polit­ic­al guru and West Wing coun­selor

New gig: Tak­ing his guru-ness to the next level by es­tab­lish­ing the In­sti­tute of Polit­ics at the Uni­versity of Chica­go; ad­vising cli­ents in races as far-flung as Italy; liv­ing com­fort­ably on the sale of his stake in two Chica­go pub­lic af­fairs firms in 2009 for $3 mil­lion; work­ing on his mem­oir due to be pub­lished in 2014 by Pen­guin Press; work­ing as a paid polit­ic­al ana­lyst for NBC News; a highly-paid mem­ber of the Wash­ing­ton Speak­ers Bur­eau.

Dav­id Plouffe

Old gig: Cam­paign mas­ter­mind; White House ad­viser

New gig: Giv­ing big-dol­lar speeches that draw cri­ti­cism, wheth­er they are in Azerbaijan, or to com­pan­ies with ties to Ir­an, and ad­vising private cli­ents. Plouffe “built a bil­lion-dol­lar na­tion­wide or­gan­iz­a­tion that in­spired mil­lions and made his­tory,” gushes the same Wash­ing­ton Speak­ers Bur­eau that rep­res­ents Axel­rod. He re­ceived a sev­en-fig­ure ad­vance to write his book The Au­da­city to Win, which be­came a best-seller, but now can be found in the bar­gain bin. Re­cently joined ABC News as an ana­lyst. (In­cid­ent­ally, Wil­li­am Da­ley, former Obama chief of staff, has just signed up with CBS, so the big three net­works are covered.)

Robert Gibbs

Old gig: White House press sec­ret­ary

New gig: Formed the In­cite Agency with ex-Obama spokes­man Ben LaBolt. Gibbs, the agency’s site reads, “has helped com­pan­ies across a mul­ti­tude of in­dus­tries to cre­ate and im­ple­ment com­mu­nic­a­tions strategies groun­ded in re­search and data” and de­scribes him as a “core mem­ber of the team that built the Obama brand from the ground up.” Cli­ents in­clude pharma be­hemoth Eli Lilly.

An­ita Dunn

Old gig: White House com­mu­nic­a­tions dir­ect­or

New gig: Dir­ect­or of SK­DKnick­er­bock­er, a pub­lic af­fairs firm. The firm’s cli­ents in­clude AT&T, Gen­er­al Elec­tric, Time Warner, Pratt & Whit­ney, Ka­plan Uni­versity and Tran­sCanada, the com­pany be­hind the con­tro­ver­sial Key­stone XL pipeline.

Jim Mess­ina

Old gig: Deputy chief of staff; 2012 cam­paign man­ager

New gig: Formed The Mess­ina Group, a con­sult­ing firm. In man­aging Obama’s reelec­tion, Mess­ina, his site says, “aban­doned every step of a tra­di­tion­al pres­id­en­tial cam­paign and merged tech­no­logy and polit­ics in a way that was both un­pre­dict­able and un­pre­ced­en­ted.” In Septem­ber, he joined the board of dir­ect­ors of Lan­zaT­ech, a bio­fuels com­pany, to, the com­pany says, “help evan­gel­ize the new en­ergy paradigm.”

Jon Favr­eau

Old gig: Obama speech­writer

New gig: Formed Fen­way Strategies with former Obama na­tion­al se­cur­ity spokes­man Tommy Vi­et­or. They have “craf­ted re­marks for some of the world’s most fam­ous CEOs, phil­an­throp­ists, celebrit­ies, and gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials,” their site says. “No one ever took a vow of poverty in the White House,” Favr­eau said in a video in­ter­view in Oc­to­ber. “No one said they would nev­er again work in the private sec­tor and make money.”

Bill Bur­ton

Old gig: Deputy White House press sec­ret­ary

New gig: Formed and ran Pri­or­it­ies USA Ac­tion, a su­per PAC that raked in more than $75 mil­lion dur­ing the 2012 cam­paign; re­cently joined the pub­lic af­fairs firm Glob­al Strategy Group as a man­aging dir­ect­or. Cli­ents in­clude GE, Cisco, Amer­ic­an Ex­press, Com­cast, and Pf­izer.

Stephanie Cut­ter

Old gig: Obama health-care strategist; deputy 2012 cam­paign manger

New gig: Yelling at Newt Gin­grich daily on CNN’s Cross­fire; re­cently formed Pre­ci­sion Strategies with ex-Obama aides Jen O’Mal­ley Dillon and Teddy Goff. “We built and man­aged a $1.2 bil­lion start-up called the Obama cam­paign,” their site says.

Mike Doni­lon

Old gig: Seni­or ad­viser to Vice Pres­id­ent Joe Biden

New gig: This sum­mer joined AK­PD Mes­sage and Me­dia — which just hap­pens to be Axel­rod’s old firm and which was re­tained by Bill de Bla­sio’s suc­cess­ful New York may­or­al bid. His cam­paign paid the firm more than $7 mil­lion.


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