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When Paul Brathwaite joined the Podesta Group in January, it was hard to imagine a better time to get his start downtown. Still young enough to be part of Majority Under 40, a networking group for young Democratic lobbyists, Brathwaite had worked for two congressional representatives, under then-Secretary of Labor Alexis Herman during the Clinton years, and for six years as the executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus. With 21 of the 43 members of the CBC heading committees or subcommittees, both he and his former bosses are in demand. In this edited transcript, Brathwaite talks with Legal Times reporter Jeff Horwitz about what he’s been up to and what’s next.
LT: You’ve been downtown for nine months. How’s the transition been? Brathwaite: It’s been interesting, challenging, and exciting all at the same time. It was a good opportunity with the new Congress to try lobbying, working with clients on the issues that concern them. On the Hill, working with the agenda of the Congressional Black Caucus, we had one agenda the caucus coalesced around. Here, I’ve got to put on different hats depending on which clients I’m working with, whether it’s the energy bill or the [State Children's Health Insurance Program] bill or whatever it may be.
LT: The Congressional Black Caucus improved its relationship with the business community during your tenure. What happened? Brathwaite: I think there was and is a misconception as to how the Congressional Black Caucus views many groups, business being one of them. One of the things people don’t often know is that several come from small-business backgrounds. During the time I was there, members made more time to engage business interests and tell the community that the doors were open for communication. And that will only be expanded now that Democrats are in the majority. Some companies were very smart and worked with us when we were in the minority. One I remember in particular was, when we were going through the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act, Wal-Mart was the first company to sign on in support. Walt Disney, CBS, Pepsi, and Coke followed suit. For those entities that built relationships while the Republicans were in the majority, it served them well. Those that didn’t are playing catch-up.
LT: Before your tenure at the CBC, you worked for and with the offices of a number of representatives in the House, not all of them members of the CBC. Given your ties to the caucus, do you ever worry that you’re being typecast? Brathwaite: I think folks know the experience I’ve had. I started my career working for Representative Tom Carper [D-Del.], who is now a senator, and [Delaware Rep.] Mike Castle, who is a senior member of the Republican Party and seen as a moderate. The members that I worked for [at the CBC], they’re decision-makers on a lot of committees. Their ethnicity doesn’t so much matter [on most committee decisions], but the issues they have jurisdiction over are huge.
LT: What will you be you spending most of your time working on this fall? Brathwaite: There are a lot of bills that are pending. It’s the energy bill; it’s the Medicare doctor fix; I’m working with National Public Radio on Internet webcasting and the fees that webcasters would have to pay. I’ve also started doing a little bit of work with the chocolate industry on child labor and issues related to the farm bill, and I’ll be working with the Louisiana Recovery Authority on appropriations for the Road Home Program and the other challenges that continue to face the Gulf Coast. It’s a busy fall already.
LT: Now that you’re off the Hill, are you going to be getting involved in any of the 2008 congressional races? Brathwaite: You can’t escape fund-raising once you come to this side. That might have been the biggest change since coming over and joining the Podesta Group. But members have to raise money for re-election, and I’ve had to do my part.
Working Lunch runs every other week in Legal Times .

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