“I’m no hero,” he says. At least, not in a summer-action-blockbuster way. But even two decades later, he’s still very much an Army man, from his close-cropped brown hair to his auspicious, bulldog-like mannerisms. He still professes that belief in “duty, honor, country” — the reasons he chose West Point over Harvard. “It sounds cheesy, but I believe that stuff.”
There’s no reason to doubt him — quite the contrary. He is, on some level, the kind of guy Washington needs more of: forthright, empathetic, pragmatic and still very much a true believer, despite all the crap he’s seen. If he ever revisits his decade-old dream of running for public office, he’d be a remarkable candidate to watch on the stump.
But today, at least, he’s not a politician. He’s the guy whispering in the politicians’ ears, advocating on behalf of clients with whom he may not even agree. And that’s the part that’s so hard to wrap your head around: that David Urban — soldier, hero, all-around stand-up guy — would be using his connections and insights not in a Mr. Smith sort of way, but to help the already powerful become just a little more powerful.
Urban rejects the notion that representing clients whose views you may not share, and whose actions may have a deleterious effect on those who can’t afford to pay their own lobbyists on Capitol Hill, necessarily makes you a dishonest hack.
“I think quite exactly the opposite,” he responds. For starters, he says, it’s never been easier to follow the money: “You can go online and find out who pays us what. The process could not be more transparent.”
In that sense, he’s right. Spend a few minutes on OpenSecrets.org, and you’ll find out all you ever wanted know about ACG: a list of its clients and how much they paid per year. But only in that sense is Urban correct; I can tell you, to the penny, how much Comcast and Independence Blue Cross have paid ACG over the years, but that doesn’t get me into the Senate conference rooms where legislation is hammered out.
“Everybody, at some level, lobbies the government, right?” Urban rebuts. “If you’re here in the spring or fall, you’ll see that tons of Americans lobby. Not professionally, like me and the 12,000 registered federal lobbyists, but on their own, and for the causes they believe in.”
Perhaps. But not nearly as effectively — otherwise, ACG wouldn’t be a multimillion-dollar-a-year enterprise. And David Urban gets results: The lame-duck session came and went without pay for delay ever reaching a vote.