Lobbyist Heather Podesta talks career path, Donald Trump era at campus event

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Heather Podesta, founder and CEO of bipartisan government relations firm Invariant, spoke about entering politics out of college, working as a lobbyist and the Donald Trump era at an event in Eshleman Hall on Thursday night.

Podesta traveled across the country to speak at her alma mater, UC Berkeley, where she reflected on her experience being the intermediary between the government and businesses, sometimes in ways that she said may not be considered “very Berkeley” — her career may not always align with the stereotypical idea of a UC Berkeley graduate.

As the “argumentative” daughter of two academics, Podesta said she was told by her parents as an 8-year-old that she would become a lawyer. In affirmation of her parents’ prognostication, Podesta attended the University of Virginia School of Law after graduating from UC Berkeley. She said during the event that law students should plan on spending three years learning to be an academic lawyer and two years becoming a practicing lawyer.

“If you go to law school, think of it as a five-year degree,” Podesta advised members of the audience.

Podesta’s talk, moderated by UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies Director Lisa García Bedolla, showcased Podesta’s transition from undergraduate to politically inclined law student to lobbyist in Washington, D.C., where she said she can “do policy and get money.”

A lobbyist both solves and creates political problems, Podesta said at the event. She acknowledged that “every part of our lives is represented in Washington,” adding that many organizations, companies and associations have lobbyists.

Although there are some lobbyists who match the stereotype of breaking the law and doing “very horrible things,” Podesta emphasized that lobbying is regulated — she discloses information about her work every three months.

“I list who my clients are, what issues I am working on for them, what divisions of government I am working with and how much they are paying me,” Podesta said at the event. “I am a big believer that disclosure is important.”

When discussing the Trump administration, Podesta compared presidents to tourists who come to Washington, where they change policies and then leave once their term is over. Podesta added that President Trump “has been very disruptive to how Washington usually works.”

Podesta said she is hopeful about the upcoming midterm elections, although she remains nervous about Russian interference. She said she believes that with a high voter turnout and without Russian intervention, Democrats will win control of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Campus freshman Andreas Maass, who attended the event, said it was a great opportunity to see how people change in Washington.

“Sometimes we like to be pessimistic about the role that lobbying has, but I feel like what Heather Podesta brought to the table can be a really productive solution to answering very specific and concentrated interests,” said campus junior Ahmad Ali, another event attendee.

Contact Yousef Al Refaei at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @RefaeiYousef.