David Axelrod, a Democratic media strategist and founder of the Chicago-based firms AKP&D Message & Media and ASK Public Strategies, handled Barack Obama's 2004 U.S. Senate campaign and led Obama's 2008 presidential campaign. In the Obama administration, Axelrod is a senior adviser to the president. 
In April 2009, Axelrod reported $1.5 million in 2008 income, from his PR and political consulting firms. "He took a $3M buyout that will be paid over five years when he left the firms for the White House," reported O'Dwyer's. 
Criticized over healthcare ad buys
In August 2009, as the fight over healthcare reform intensified, reform opponents (mostly Republicans) criticized the "huge ad buys" that pro-reform groups made through Axelrod's old firm. "Two separate $12 million ad campaigns advocating Obama's health care plan ... were produced and placed partly by AKP&D Message & Media, a firm founded by Axelrod that employs his son and still owes Axelrod $2 million," reported Politico.com. Another firm working on the ad campaigns, GMMB, "did millions of dollars of work on Obama's presidential campaign." Both GMMB and AKPD "tout their connections to [Obama's] campaign and still maintain close ties to his inner circle." The ad buys were placed by Americans for Stable Quality Care and its predecessor, Healthy Economy Now, coalitions including the labor union SEIU and the drug industry group PhRMA. A Republican memo, referring to a PhRMA-Senate deal to limit reform costs to the drug industry to $80 billion over ten years, asked whether Axelrod "recused himself from the PhRMA 'deal,' or will he work to defend an agreement with an industry that is directly funding his son's work, and indirectly funding his own $2 million severance package?" The coalitions said they chose AKPD for its respected track record, not its Obama ties. The White House replied that Axelrod is in full compliance with its ethics rules. 
Role in the Obama administration
Axelrod convenes a weekly "Wednesday Night Meeting, an invitation-only session for a handful of advisers," where they "discuss the latest batch of polls and focus groups conducted for the White House." The New York Times reported that Axelrod's advice carries "more weight than most anyone else's on the president's payroll. ... There are few words that come across the president’s lips that have not been blessed by Mr. Axelrod. He reviews every speech, studies every major policy position and works with Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, to prepare responses to the crisis of the day." Axelrod meets daily with White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, attends Oval Office economic briefings, and sometimes joins meetings of the National Security Council. 
Moonlighting at ASK
Working from the same office as his AKP&D firm, "Axelrod operates a second business, ASK Public Strategies, that discreetly plots strategy and advertising campaigns for corporate clients," reported BusinessWeek. Axelrod's ASK partners are John Kupper and Eric Sedler, the latter previously of AT&T and Edelman. 
ASK is known for creating front groups. Chicago Alder Brendan Reilly called ASK "the gold standard in Astroturf organizing." In 2005, as ComEd was "preparing to ask [Illinois] state regulators for higher electricity prices," ASK advised the company to form "Consumers Organized for Reliable Electricity." The front group, which described itself as "a coalition of individuals, businesses and organizations," funded ads that warned of blackouts unless rates were raised. Around the same time, ASK helped Cablevision, which owns Madison Square Garden, oppose the New York Jets's plans to build a new stadium in Manhattan. Cablevision formed the "New York Association for Better Choices," and ran anti-stadium ads in its name. ASK's other work includes helping AT&T defend municipal broadband referenda. 
Axelrod's former/current political client list includes Sens. Obama and Hillary Clinton, U.S. Rep. Rahm Emanuel, New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, and the 2004 presidential election campaign of former Sen. John Edwards.
Articles and resources
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- Lynn Sweet, "Obama's campaign staff a work in progress," Chicago Sun-Times, January 22, 2007.
- Said Cao, "Axelrod Paved the Way for Obama," The Wide Awakes, February 4, 2007.
- Jeff Zeleny, "President's Political Protector Is Ever Close at Hand," New York Times, March 8, 2009.
- "Axelrod Earned $1.5M for PR, Consulting Work," O'Dwyer's PR Daily (sub req'd), April 6, 2009.
- Kenneth P. Vogel, "David Axelrod's ties targeted in health fight," Politico.com, August 19, 2009.
- Howard Wolinsky, "The Secret Side of David Axelrod," BusinessWeek, March 14, 2008.
- Jonathan Alter, "Is Penn Mightier Than Axe?," Newsweek, January 21, 2008.
- Joe Stephens, "Obama Camp Has Many Ties to Wife's Employer," Washington Post, August 22, 2008.
- Mike McIntire, "For Obama Strategist, Ties to Corporations and Nonprofits as a Consultant," New York Times, October 17, 2008.