McCain adviser Nancy Pfotenhauer learned ropes as lobbyist, crusader

By Carol Eisenberg

September 26, 2008 at 10:14am

Her short, blonde hair is perfectly coiffed; she smiles beatifically through Chris Matthews’ tirades and wields John McCain’s latest talking points like a sword in battle.

Nancy Miller Pfotenhauer, senior adviser to GOP presidential nominee John McCain, has prepared for this role for 20 years.

She honed her skills as a conservative poster-girl by working her way up through the trenches of GOP politics, conservative think tanks and private industry – apprenticing herself as a young, graduate student to conservative economic star Walter E. Williams at George Mason University, working for the Republican National Committee, and then learning political hardball as in-house lobbyist for Koch Industries, the world’s largest private company run by conservative mogul Charles G. Koch.

Some have suggested that the McCain campaign has put her out front to make the Republican ticket seem more female-friendly - a strategy that may also be reflected in the White House’s choice of Dana Perino as spokeswoman.

Pfotenhauer, however, is no Sally-come-lately to the GOP; her connections to the politically active Koch brothers, in particular, go back two decades.

After graduating from the University of Georgia, she got a masters degree in economics at George Mason University, a major beneficiary of Koch family largesse. (No coincidence that Richard H. Fink, executive vice president of Koch Industries, is a member of the board of visitors of George Mason, and also president and director of two of the family’s charities - the Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation and of the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation.)

One of her mentors at George Mason was Williams – a darling of the conservative movement who appears as a substitute host on “The Rush Limbaugh Show,” and sits on boards of Koch-funded think tanks such as the Cato Institute.

She got her first job in Washington as a senior economist at the Republican National Committee in 1987, and was promoted to chief economist in 1988.

Leveraging her association with Williams, she landed a spot on the transition team for then-incoming President George H.W. Bush, where she advised on appointments to both the Federal Trade Commission and the Interstate Commerce Commission, according to Daily Kos.

For the next few years, she worked as economic counsel to then-Sen. William Armstrong, who served on both the Finance and Budget Committees, and then as chief economist of the President’s Council on Competitiveness, serving with Dan Quayle, among others.

Soon thereafter, she moved to the Washington office of Koch industries, becoming the company’s chief in-house lobbyist, focusing in particular on gas pipelines.

She also married into the world of Washington lobbyists. Her second husband, Kurt Pfotenhauer, heads the American Land Title Association, and is a former top lobbyist for the Mortgage Bankers Association.

But working for Koch Industries was extraordinarily challenging. In early 2000, the company agreed to a landmark $30 million civil settlement with the federal government, in an effort to resolve claims related to more than 300 oil spills from its pipelines and oil facilities in six states.

In 2001, Pfotenhauer left Koch to become president of the Independent Women’s Forum, a conservative research group funded by the Koch foundations, which has been described as a Who’s Who of Washington’s Republican establishment.

Founded by Rosalie (Ricky) Gaull Silberman in 1992, the women’s forum grew out of “Women for Judge Thomas,” formed to defend Clarence Thomas against allegations of sexual harassment during his confirmation hearings for the U.S. Supreme Court.

Its directors include Wendy Lee Gramm, Lynne Cheney and Midge Decter.

It was through the women’s forum that Photenhauer was appointed by then-Attorney General John Ashcroft to join the National Advisory Committee on Violence Against Women in 2002 – though her group had vigorously opposed the law the committee was supposed to oversee.

The appointments infuriated feminist groups, according to a Washington Post column by Dana Milbank:

“I’m appalled but I’m not shocked,” said Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women. She said the IWF “makes light of violence against women on a regular basis.”

Pfotenhauer said in an interview yesterday that her purpose was “not at all” to undo the law but to give states more flexibility in implementing it.

“You have to look at domestic violence as a culture of intimacy,” she said, rather than a “one-size-fits-all, men-beat-up-women” framework.

In October 2003, the women’s forum announced an affiliation with Citizens for a Sound Economy, now Americans For Prosperity – also Koch-funded groups - with which it shared staff and premises for several years. For a while Pfotenhauer was also president of Americans for Prosperity and executive vice president for Citizens for a Sound Economy.

Pfotenhauer left those groups last year to become an adviser to McCain’s campaign.

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