In February, President Joe Biden tapped well-connected political advisor Ben LaBolt to be his new communications director. Now, newly released financial disclosure documents show that LaBolt’s previous trip through Washington’s revolving door was incredibly lucrative, and many of his former clients have a stake in pressing matters before the administration, from gig labor and crypto regulations to railroad safety.
LaBolt worked as President Barack Obama’s deputy press secretary before turning to corporate consulting. The disclosures are a perfect illustration of how profitable this career path can be: LaBolt reported owning assets worth potentially more than $20 million last year.
And while LaBolt was reportedly barred from “participating in legal matters, investigations, or contracts” relating to some of his former tech and crypto industry clients when he joined the Biden administration, many of his other former clients have obvious interests in White House policy decisions today.
“President Biden has instituted the strongest ethics rules in history under the Biden-Harris Ethics Pledge,” White House Assistant Press Secretary Robyn Patterson told The Lever. “Ben — like every official who serves in this White House — is proud to live up to that standard and comply with all appropriate recusals.
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LaBolt served as Obama’s 2008 campaign press secretary and White House deputy press secretary before working on his 2012 reelection campaign. In 2013, LaBolt co-founded a communications firm, the Incite Agency, with former Obama press secretary Robert Gibbs. Their firm was purchased in 2016 by the communications firm Bully Pulpit Interactive.
At the time, Gibbs and LaBolt’s clients reportedly included Google, Airbnb, Eli Lilly and Bloomberg Philanthropies. The firm said its approach was “grounded in the strategies we’ve used to define the Obama brand and grow it into a national movement.” Until February, LaBolt was a partner and board director at Bully Pulpit Interactive.
In his financial disclosures, LaBolt reported a salary and bonus from Bully Pulpit Interactive of $833,000 last year, a $48,000 commission payment. He noted that he sold his stake in Bully Pulpit Interactive and received a $3 million equity payout.
One of LaBolt’s clients, Andreessen Horowitz, is a major investor in crypto, or digital currencies. He also worked for the crypto exchange Uniswap. The venture capital firm has been one of the most vocal lobbying spenders trying to shape crypto policy.
LaBolt’s client list last year included Facebook parent company Meta, as well as Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s family office, called West Street LLC, which represents his non-Facebook-related business interests.
The disclosure shows LaBolt worked for the gig economy delivery company InstaCart, a company whose business model is based on classifying low-paid workers as independent contractors — a topic the Biden administration has suggested could be the subject of a future enforcement action by the Federal Trade Commission.
LaBolt represented Union Pacific, the second largest railroad company in the U.S. Like the rest of the railroad industry, the company has adopted a “precision scheduled railroading” strategy that’s meant slashing workforces and running larger trains to juice profits.
He additionally worked for Walton Enterprises, the primary family office of the Walton family, which owns Walmart. The Waltons are one of America’s richest families and made their fortune building a low-wage retail giant known for depressing workers’ wages and devastating local economies.
LaBolt’s firm, Bully Pulpit Interactive, previously worked for the Partnership for America’s Health Care Future, a coalition of health insurers, pharmaceutical companies, and hospital chains that spent $80 million opposing Medicare for All and any other major reforms to the health care system.
The group also opposed a “public option,” or government health insurance plan, an idea that Biden promised on the 2020 campaign trail and has not mentioned once since becoming president. According to a White House source, LaBolt did not work for the partnership.