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Power Players

What’s in a name? The conventional wisdom on the origin of the word “lobbyist” goes back to the 1870s when President Grant would retreat to the Willard Hotel from the White House and those wanting to talk with him would wait in the lobby.

While any U.S. citizen has the Constitutional right to petition the government on any issue, lobbyists are professionals paid by their clients to bring about a specific result, such as the passage of favorable legislation. They also make financial contributions to candidates or causes. But some view lobbying as a business that unfairly influences the democratic process and leaves out those who can’t afford access. This perception has been so compounded by recent scandals that to call someone a “lobbyist” is almost pejorative.

But lobbyists are also advocates, and perform a vital function. The Lobbying and Disclosure Act of 1995 was an attempt to bring more accountability and transparency to the industry, and amendments that took effect in 2007 further tightened the law. Lobbyists are now required to register on a quarterly basis with the Clerk of the House of Representatives and the Secretary of the Senate. Failure to register means a fine of up to $50,000, and anyone not in compliance could face prosecution. The law defines lobbyists as those who are paid to advocate at least 20 percent of their time for a particular cause or issue whether before Congress or the Executive Branch. It also requires that any organization that contributes more than $10,000 towards lobbying must register. Disclosure rules include not just listing monetary compensation for lobbying activity, but also a general description of the lobbyist’s business and of the client. This information is public and can be accessed online at LobbyingDisclosure.House.Gov.

Yet there are many in the nation’s capital who influence legislation but aren’t registered and don’t consider themselves lobbyists. When he first ran for the White House, President Obama pledged to ban lobbyists from influencing his administration, and while that pledge has all but been forgotten, it prohibited anyone with a lobbying background from taking a job with the administration---which means those who want to work in the administration “sit out” until their lobbying registration has expired.

One power player is Maria Cardona, a principal in the Dewey Square Group. She joined the public affairs firm in 2005 and works on strategic planning and communications with a variety of the company’s corporate and non-profit clients such as AT&T. Currently unregistered, Cardona has tremendous influence through regular stints on CNN as a political analyst commenting on a variety of issues, particularly from the perspective of how they impact the Latino community. Before DSG, she was a senior advisor to the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign, the Obama for America campaign, and the Democratic National Committee, serving as the DNC’s communications director, as well as the top spokesperson for immigration issues during the Clinton administration. Cardona considers herself lucky that when she started her career she had mentors who helped her flourish and didn’t pigeonhole her into just Latino issues. “That was critical to what I am doing now,” adding, “this is not a 9 to 5 job. It’s something I live and breathe every day.”

While lobbying has become a multi-billion dollar industry, Latinos have historically not been part of it. Of the approximately 30,000 to 40,000 lobbyists in Washington, D.C. (registered and unregistered), just about 100 have Latino surnames, and only a handful of lobbying firms is Hispanic-owned. One of them is the Ibarra Strategy Group. “We started on January 21, 2001, the day after I left the White House. It’s something that I never imagined I would ever do. Fear of failure is one of the many obstacles we all have to overcome, but I was willing to take that risk,” said president and founder Mickey Ibarra, a former director of the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs at the White House during the Clinton administration. Ibarra is also a former teacher, union organizer and political strategist at the National Education Association. “I realized that what I really like to do is advocacy. It is what I enjoy and am passionate about. My brother David encouraged me to go out on my own. The NEA was nice enough to offer me a job when I left the White House, but I decided to do it myself and they turned out to be my first client.” Ibarra says that what is most happy about is being able to represent causes he believes in to decision makers and without having to compromise his principles. He adds with a chuckle that the toughest moment was hiring his first staffers.“Immediately it means that it’s more than just me. That was scary, but I haven’t missed a payroll yet!”

Ibarra prides himself in having all his clients renew for 2013, including Verizon. “My reputation is what I have and what I promise every client is the best effort from me and my team.” Ten years ago, Ibarra founded the Latino Leaders Network, which sponsors quarterly luncheons in Washington, D.C. with prominent Latino leaders. The group also sponsors a “Tribute to Mayors” dinner and reception during the U.S. Conference of Mayors annual winter and summer meetings. “It’s an opportunity to stay engaged with the community,” Ibarra says.

In the years since Ibarra hung up a shingle, several other Hispanics have done the same, including Catherine Pino and Ingrid Durán, who in 2004 founded D&P Creative Strategies. “We asked ourselves, ‘why not?’ There isn’t a Latina-owned business out there that does this, so why not?” said Durán, a former president and CEO of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute. “We took the years of experience we had and it’s been nine years now. It was challenging at first and it’s been a lot of hard work, but we’re demonstrating that it can be done. It’s all about relationships. We foster them.”

Like Ibarra, Durán says that the most rewarding part of the firm’s work is being able to do what she and Pino are most passionate about. “We always ask, ‘Is this good?’ If it’s not aligned with what we believe, we don’t do it. We want to empower the communities we care about.” While lobbying can be a lucrative business, many Hispanics in the business also help the community by advocating for social causes.

For Durán, that means Latinos and the LGBT community. She considers D&P Strategies a hybrid firm that does more than lobby on Capitol Hill for clients like Comcast and works on awareness campaigns such as Familia es Familia, a groundbreaking public education campaign last summer to raise understanding and build support within the Latino community for acceptance of their LGBT family members. “We get to work on the best and most exciting issues. Having that flexibility to do those issues and being able to be creative is the best.”

While Robert Raben is not Latino, he has carved out an enviable niche by working on the issues that most affect Latinos. A former Assistant Attorney General during the Clinton administration, the affable Raben founded his firm in 2001, focusing on progressive policy issues. Many of his clients are non-profit organizations such as MALDEF. “I was very deliberate about that and very focused on our work reflecting and serving the community. I’m interested in how power is distributed in this country and what we can do to change that. We are a value-driven firm.”

The Raben Group’s portfolio covers a wide range of critical areas such as Latino appointments, the death penalty, childhood obesity and immigration reform. “We do the hard-core social justice issues. We don’t do a lot of corporate work, and we have a tradition of doing pro-bono work.” But those corporate clients include tech and financial giants Google and MasterCard, and Raben has done well by doing good for the Latino community. His firm has a swank office in Washington, D.C. as well as in Los Angeles, with a swelling roster of employees.

Many Latino lobbyists are members of the Hispanic Lobbyists Association (HLA), which seeks to change negative perceptions of the industry. Currently, the HLA has 75 members, and among its objectives is to mentor Latino youth and professionals interested in the field and raise awareness of the work that Latino lobbyists are doing. “The Hispanic Lobbyists Association is an extremely supportive community of savvy and sophisticated political minds,” said board member Maritza Kelley, a senior director at a children’s advocacy organization. “Hispanic lobbyists are bringing tremendous talent and insight to their places of employment. Latinos need to be, and increasingly are, at every decision-making table. As a lobbyist, you not only have a place at the table to create positive change in your community, but you’re also advocating to bring other leaders and change makers to the table.” For more information on the HLA, visit

In the following pages, LATINO profiles some of the top Latino lobbyists working in our nation’s capital. Needless to say, we were lobbied aggressively for inclusion, but remained incorruptible. Our criteria were subjective and by no means definitive. In efforts to be representative, we reached out to a wide cross-section of people and avoided the usual suspects in favor of some up-and-comers. Throughout our research, we were plagued by the thought that some power players would shun publicity, and not want to be on our list of seven political samurai. If so, then you know who you are.


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Cristina Antelo

Cristina Antelo is a principal in the Podesta Group, a lobbying powerhouse in Washington. She is involved in a wide range of issues before Congress and the Executive branch, specializing in intellectual property, trade, financial services and tax policy. Prior to joining Podesta, Antelo was with DLA Piper, a leading Washington law firm, and is a former legal fellow on the Senate Democratic Steering Committee. Before her career in lobbying, she was an investment banker at Goldman Sachs, working in the private wealth management division with high-income clients. She is a graduate of Georgetown University and the George Washington University School of Law, and is one of the founding members of the HLA and a former president. “We are a tight-knit community, with a shared interest in having Latinos involved in the governing process,” she told LATINO. Antelo credits hard work, in fact, “working harder than everybody else” with helping her get to where she is now.


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Omar Franco

Omar Franco is Managing Director of the Washington office of Becker & Poliakoff, serving as a lobbyist in the Government Law and Lobbying Practice division. His areas of expertise include transportation, state and federal appropriations, education and healthcare, and among his specialties are government relations, issue management and political outreach. In addition to working with Becker & Poliakoff, Franco founded in 2010 his own lobbying firm, Franco Government Relations, and his clients include the City of Hialeah and Florida Gulf Coast University. His previous experience includes serving as chief of staff for Republican congressman Mario Diaz-Balart, where he managed both the Washington and district offices and counseled the congressman on a number of key issues and was highly regarded by Hill staffers. Franco is President of the HLA and the only Hispanic on the board of the American Lobbying Association. “It really is an honor to be there and represent the community,” he said. Franco adds that the most different aspect of his work since he left Capitol Hill is the focus now on getting the work and getting the clients. “On the Hill, the work comes to you, and now you have to find the action. Lobbyists are some of the hardest-working people around. We gather information for the client, we are the trusted partner.”


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Moses Mercado

Moses Mercado has been Chairman of the Ogilvy Government Relations group since January of 2010, having risen from Senior Vice President and Managing Director since joining the firm in 2007. He works on a variety of issues, including Financial Services, Healthcare and Energy. Previously to joining Ogilvy, he was Deputy Executive Director for Intergovernmental Affairs at the Democratic National Committee, and Deputy Chief of Staff for Richard Gephardt when he was a House Democratic leader. He is a graduate of the University of Texas and the South Texas College of Law. “The transition was not difficult,” he tells LATINO. “It’s just like working on the Hill. You learn the issues, your client’s issues, what contributions they make to our economy, such as jobs, and investments, and you advocate for them.” Mercado says networking is key, as is establishing an area of expertise. “Expand your network and build on it. When you work on the Hill your biggest challenge is managing the information that comes at you every day. On the outside, it’s working every day to find relevant information that affects you and your client.”


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Susan Santana

Susan Santana has been Assistant Vice President for Federal Relations at AT&T since 2009, responsible for advocating on behalf of the firm’s legislative interests in Congress. Currently, she is the Vice Persident of the HLA. Previously, she was AT&T’s Assistant Vice President for External Affairs, and has also worked as Government Affairs Counsel for Austin-based Dell Computers and as an associate for various law firms. Before going in-house, she was a senior associate in the area of Corporate Diversity Counseling in the Public Policy Group of Holland & Knight. A graduate of the UCLA School of Law, she specializes in coalition building and third-party strategic alliances. Santana is married to another lobbyist, Bert Gomez, Senior Vice President for Government Relations for Univision, and the two are a formidable D.C. power couple. “I consider Susie Santana ‘best in class’ and a tremendous asset,” said Robert Raben.


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Jessica Montoya

Jessica Montoya is Vice President of Government Affairs and Assistant General Counsel of Sodexo. She is also Director of the Sodexo Foundation Board of Directors, focusing on programs to end childhood hunger. Montoya graduated from the University of New Mexico School of Law with an MBA from Johns Hopkins University. Before joining Sodexo, she was with Chrysler as Manager of Congressional Affairs, where she lobbied on behalf of the automaker in the middle of the governmental bailout. Montoya said she gained a lot of very valuable experience working in the corporate finance division of the car company, and had people who believed in her. “When I graduated from the University of New Mexico,” she said, “I didn’t have a job, so I moved to D.C. in a U-Haul, and started out working in the office of Eleanor Holmes-Norton (Washington’s congressional representative) when she was co-chair of the Women’s Caucus.”


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Ivan Zapien

Ivan Zapien has been a lobbyist for Walmart since 2008, serving as Vice President of the Federal Government Relations office, managing a team of government relations professionals and consultants on behalf of the giant retailer. “My job is to be part advocate, part leader of the Washington office,” he says. “[Going to work for Walmart] was a good way to tie my diverse background and use all the different aspects of my skills. Previous to joining Walmart, he served for five years as Chief of Staff for New Jersey Democratic senator Robert Menendez, and as Executive Director of the Hispanic Business Council at the Democratic National Committee, where he was the liaison between the DNC and the Hispanic business community. A graduate of the Catholic University Columbus School of Law, he has a Masters in Political Management from the George Washington University and a bachelor’s from the University of Arizona. He started as a staff assistant for then-Arizona Senator Dennis DeConcini, but also worked in the private sector before assuming his current position. “There are people who come into this from an extensive Hill background, but I have seen a lot different backgrounds, too. There’s no right or wrong way to do this.”


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Noe Garcia

Noe Garcia recently founded the lobbying group Monroe Strategies, a firm in suburban Arlington, named as such because “that’s the street I live on,” he says with a chuckle, adding that hanging his own shingle seemed like a good opportunity. He is also a lobbyist for the International Bank of Commerce, working as the lead external counsel for advocating on behalf of the bank’s legislative agenda. Prior to that he was a Principal at Corporate Political Strategies, specializing in helping companies with their operations management and internal political structure. Garcia also served as a senior strategist for Hispanic issues on the McCain presidential campaign in 2008, and was an Associate Political Director in the White House during the George W. Bush administration. A graduate of Texas A&M University, he was a co-founder of the Young Hispanic Republican Association, and began his career as an intern in the office of then-Republican congressman Henry Bonilla. “I’ve had an opportunity to work on a variety of substantive issues,” he said.


By Patricia Guadalupe.