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Barack Obama taps ex-Fannie Mae lobby boss to review the State Department

November 13, 2008 |  5:44 am

Way back in the 2008 presidential race, John McCain’s campaign manager, Rick Davis, got lots of unwanted attention for his ties to the failed home mortgage lender, Fannie Mae.

But McCain was not the only candidate whose advisors included Fannie alumni.

Barack Obama had his share, and now the president-elect has tapped one of them, Washington attorney Thomas Donilon, to help lead the transition team's review of operations at the State Department.

The move, announced Wednesday, makes some sense. Donilon was assistant secretary of state in the Clinton administration. But Donilon also had his hands in Fannie Mae.Home foreclosure

After the Clinton years, Donilon worked as executive vice president for law and policy at Fannie Mae, a post he held until 2005. In that role, Donilon helped oversee Fannie's massive government lobbying operation, called a very aggressive one.

According to Obama's aides, Donilon was an unpaid advisor during the campaign focusing on foreign policy. He also donated $2,300 to Obama's presidential campaign.

But as campaign watchers may recall, it was Davis’ role at Fannie that gained far more attention.

Attention turned to Davis in part because Bill Maloni, Fannie’s former chief lobbyist, wrote a letter that was published by the online publication Politico in September as Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and Wall Street were melting down.

In the letter, Maloni took issue with McCain for attacking Obama over receiving advice from one former Fannie Mae executive -- “as if there is some guilt in the association with Fannie Mae's former executives.”

Shortly after the letter was published, Maloni spoke to The Times and explained a bit about the hierarchy during his tenure.

Maloni pointed out that Davis was not paid out of Fannie's lobbying budget, but rather from the communications budget. He explained that Davis’ job as head of Homeowners’ Alliance was but “one of many things we were doing,” and it was “small potatoes” in Fannie’s overall lobbying and external communications effort.

Maloni, who retired in 2004, headed Fannie’s lobbying operation for 20 years. He had as many as 20 lobbyists and consultants reporting to him.

And for a time, Maloni’s boss was, tah-dah, Donilon, the current Obama advisor and transition expert.

“We were very, very aggressive lobbyists,” Maloni said. “It wasn’t an accident. If you lost, you lost. The mission was too important.”

-- Dan Morain

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Photo credit: Reed Saxon / Associated Press