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Politics and Government

Gov. Polis hires firm of his former campaign spokeswoman to lobby the federal government

The Squire Patton Boggs law firm, which includes Mara Sheldon, will represent the governor’s office in Washington

Colorado Gov.-elect Jared Polis jokes with his director of advance, Eli Rosen, and communications director, Mara Sheldon, before his inauguration at the Colorado Capitol on Tuesday, January 8, 2019. (Pool photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post)
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Gov. Jared Polis hired a team at Squire Patton Boggs to lobby the federal government on behalf of his administration, a contract that could pay up to $144,000 a year and includes a former top campaign adviser.

The two parties signed the agreement June 10, and Squire Patton Boggs filed a lobbying registration 11 days later with the U.S. House of Representatives stating it would represent the governor’s office. 

One of the lobbyists working for the administration in Washington is Mara Sheldon, who served as communications director for Polis’ gubernatorial campaign. She’s a former longtime aide to several Democratic members of Congress and joined Squire Patton Boggs in April. 

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When it made the hire, the firm touted her work in “health care, environment, and water issues, and banking and financial services.”

“We went through a very thorough bid process that resulted in the hiring of Squire Patton Boggs,” Polis’ spokesman Conor Cahill said in a written statement. “They have a strong track record of success in federal policy and we feel confident that they will ensure that Coloradans interest are protected at the federal level.”

The two governors before former Gov. John Hickenlooper didn’t hire contract Washington lobbyists, according to the federal lobbying database.

Hickenlooper’s lobbying arrangement came under scrutiny when the former governor’s chief of staff left to return to work at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, the firm that lobbied for Hickenlooper’s administration. Questions about the administration’s close ties to the law firm led Hickenlooper to not renew the contract, which was worth more than $200,000 a year.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, left, and Kelly Brough, CEO of the Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce, speak at a chamber event on May 10, 2019. (Photo by Evan Semón, provided by the Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce)

Polis hired Squire Patton Boggs, an international law firm based in Cleveland with offices in Denver and Washington, from a pool of four firms that applied for the contract in early April. 

Washington, D.C.-based firms Capitol Counsel, Monument Advocacy and Van Scoyoc Associates also applied for the contract. All four firms proposed a $12,000 per month fee. Squire Patton Boggs and Capitol Counsel were interviewed, but neither Polis nor Sheldon participated in the interviews. 

Sheldon and Squire Patton Boggs deferred comment to Polis’ office.

The contract with the firm, obtained by The Sun, provides up to $12,000 a month as payment over the next year, the maximum allowed under the bid request. It requires monthly reports, periodic updates and interaction with Polis and his executive staff.

MORE: Read the contract between Gov. Jared Polis’ office and Squire Patton Boggs

Polis served in Congress for 10 years before becoming governor and he emphasized in the 2018 campaign that his experience would give Colorado clout in Washington.

The new contract costs less than the terms outlined between Hickenlooper’s administration and Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck. That firm earned $50,000 in the first quarter of 2018 and $170,000 in 2017. Hickenlooper canceled the contract in November 2017, after former chief of staff Doug Friednash returned to the firm.

Sheldon was the first staffer Polis hired for his campaign and the last to leave, working through the inauguration. She encountered controversy in the final weeks of the campaign after a confrontation with a right-wing activist at a campaign rally.

“The thorough bid process resulted in the hiring of a firm with a presence in D.C. and Colorado, and hundreds of individuals with federal backgrounds and expertise, including Mara who will help deliver results for Colorado, do it at a lower cost and help ensure the interests of Coloradans are heard at the federal level,” Cahill said in a statement.

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Another lobbyist for the administration named in the new contract is Mike Dino, who’s worked on various Democratic political efforts, including the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver and Hickenlooper’s 2006 Denver mayoral contest. He served as an occasional political commentator for Denver’s CBS4 television station during the 2018 election.

The other two names on the contract are Victoria Cram and Pamela Welsh, who both work in the firm’s Washington office. Cram cochairs the firm’s transportation, infrastructure and local government practice. Welsh helps the firm represent the cities of San Diego and San Jose, California, as well as other clients.

The company said it would lobby for the Polis administration on “general federal issues relevant to state government on water, health, criminal justice reform, education, public lands, immigration, tax, and trade,” according to a federal disclosure.

Other Squire Patton Boggs federal lobbying clients from Colorado this year include Denver Water, Commerce City, Jefferson County and the Colorado Coalition for Developmental Disabilities. 

Brownstein, the Denver-based firm, earlier this year came under fire for representing Saudi Arabia, particularly after Saudi government agents killed Washington Post journalist Jamal Kahshoggi in Turkey last October. The Saudi government paid the firm $1.8 million in 2018.

MORE: A Denver-based lobbying firm working for Saudi Arabia met with the White House amid the fallout from a journalist’s killing

Squire Patton Boggs also represented Saudi Arabia in 2018, receiving payments of $579,940.

Squire Patton Boggs ranks fourth in federal lobbyist income in the nation thus far this year at $6.7 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. In 2018, the company earned $24.2 million, also in fourth place.

Brownstein Hyatt ranked second in 2018 with income of $31.3 million, and second thus far this year with income of nearly $9.1 million, according to the center’s OpenSecrets data.

Brownstein wasn’t among the applicants for the contract with Polis’ office. That firm’s lobbyists represented big tobacco companies to help defeat the governor’s proposal for higher taxes on nicotine products in the waning days of Colorado’s 2019 legislative session.