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For Inside Player, D.C. Contacts Pay Off

Lobbyist Also Has Contracts With City

By Serge F. Kovaleski
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 13, 2005; Page C03

Max Brown left the Williams administration in 2000, but his life still revolves around city hall.

Whether it's about red-light cameras, the return of baseball or a range of other major issues in the District, the mayor's friend and former legal counsel is lobbying top city officials and D.C. Council members on behalf of clients. His company, Group 360 LLC, has been paid $835,000 in fees over the past three years for lobbying the District government.

Max Brown went from the mayor's office to lobbying and marketing. (Gerald Martineau -- The Washington Post)

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But Brown's ties to the John A. Wilson Building don't stop there. The same administration that has given Brown frequent access to advocate for his clients also has provided his firm with lucrative city contracts. Group 360 has been paid $688,000 since late 2001 by four city agencies, the mayor's office and the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development on contracts for marketing and communications services, District records show.

The Office of the Chief Technology Officer has paid Brown's company the most money: $497,000 since 2002. The head of that agency, Suzanne Peck, also shows up in Group 360's lobbying reports as one of the city officials whom the firm has lobbied the most.

District law does not prohibit individuals from lobbying the D.C. government while also receiving contracts from the city, provided that all their lobbying activities are disclosed with the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance.

Brown, 40, who was legal counsel and deputy chief of staff for Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) during Williams's first term, said he is aggressive about developing business opportunities. He bristled at any suggestion that his relationship with the mayor has helped his five-member advocacy, advertising and public relations company obtain city contracts.

"I am a bloodhound when it comes to chasing contracts. And on the lobbying stuff, I am a Sherpa making sure that people don't step into a crevasse," Brown said in an interview. "I think it is okay to do work for the city and lobby the city as long as it is not on the same issues. . . . I think it strengthens relationships."

Williams said in an interview that Brown is a friend with whom he talks once a week or so and that "politics in the city" is invariably a topic of those conversations. The mayor said they share a fondness for sports and regularly go to the movies together. But Williams added that he does not think their friendship has resulted in Brown's getting preferential treatment from the administration.

"I think Max has developed his own relationships with these people independent of me," Williams said.

Half the 10 District government contracts that Group 360 has received were competitively bid. The rest did not require competitive bidding because they were for projects below the cost threshold that triggers that process, according to city officials who have reviewed the documents.

Brown also has worked as a paid consultant for Williams on both of his campaigns. And the reelection campaign of former D.C. Council member Harold Brazil (D-At Large), a close ally of the mayor's who was defeated in September's Democratic primary, paid the firm $119,461 between August 2003 and last November for consulting and other work, records show.

Brown's crossover from government aide to campaign strategist, contractor and for-hire influence broker is a transition more commonly seen in federal Washington than in the smaller world of District politics. Brown himself said he does not know of any other former Williams administration official who has capitalized as much on "good relationships" and experience in D.C. government.

His connection to Williams began in 1996. On the advice of a friend, he called Williams, then the District's chief financial officer, to see whether he could land a job with him. Brown, an Ohio native who had worked for Sen. John Glenn (D-Ohio) on Capitol Hill, had moved back to Washington after selling an Internet business he briefly owned in Cleveland.

Williams soon hired Brown as his legal counsel, one of the two positions Brown would simultaneously hold with Williams after he became mayor in 1999. But 13 months into the mayor's first term, Brown, nicknamed "the Enforcer" for his sometimes abrasive manner in promoting his boss's interests, resigned to join the Carmen Group Inc. lobbying firm. In 2001, he struck out on his own to form Group 360.

At least one-third of the $688,000 that Group 360 has received from the city is tied to a contract worth as much as $999,999 that was not competitively bid. That contract, which expires at the end of next month, was not subject to a review by the D.C. Council because only contracts valued at $1 million or more require council approval.

The contract prequalifies Group 360 to bid on a specified list of projects without having to go through the usual bureaucratic procedures. Eleven other companies received a similar prequalification for marketing and public information services.

Group 360's lobbying reports with the Office of Campaign Finance show that some of the highest-ranking District officials have opened their doors to Brown. The list includes Williams, City Administrator Robert C. Bobb, his predecessor John A. Koskinen, Transportation Director Dan Tangherlini, Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi and former deputy mayors Eric W. Price, Margret Nedelkoff Kellems and Carolyn N. Graham.

Brown said that not all the meetings disclosed in those records involved lobbying, even though they were listed as such. He said he is so concerned about even the appearance of impropriety that he reports meetings, for example, that are little more than an opportunity for a client to get an introduction to a city official.

Group 360's client roster includes the Washington Baseball Club, a group of investors that helped District officials bring a professional baseball team back to the city and now wants to buy the franchise. Brown also represents ACS, which administers the red-light and speed cameras in the District, and he lobbied on behalf of the Corcoran Gallery of Art in its successful bid to purchase the former Randall School in Southwest Washington that served as a homeless shelter.

Corcoran spokeswoman Margaret Bergen said Group 360 worked with the museum from November 2003 until last March while it was formulating its initial strategy to buy the building. The $6.2 million sale, which the D.C. Council approved late last year, spawned protests by advocates for the homeless.

"By way of activities, Mr. Brown facilitated one of the early meetings with Robert Bobb to discuss our efforts," Bergen said.

Bobb said in an interview that Brown "knows the political landscape here in the District" but that the lobbyist had little to do with the administration's support of the sale.

"We embraced the project on what it would do in terms of economic development for the District," Bobb said. "It was not a hard sell, and he was not a factor in the deal going through, from my perspective."

Brown met with Peck, the city's chief technology officer, seven times, according to the lobbying reports -- five times on behalf of ACS and twice on behalf of Dynamic Concepts Inc., a technical support company.

But Peck said no lobbying took place. "He has never lobbied me on anything," she said. "Max has asked me to see a few people on a meet-and-greet basis."

Officials with the technology office said the $497,000 it has paid Group 360 is for projects that include the launching of a new portal for the District government's Web site and public education work for the site. Brown also put together an education program to familiarize District workers with a desktop support service the technology office provides to city agencies. And he helped develop a pilot program in which the District and several states can exchange public safety and justice information over the Internet.

Group 360 also has been paid $135,280 by the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs for work that included public education about a program to streamline how business licenses are obtained.

In addition to the city contracts, Brown's company received $130,000 in federal homeland security funds awarded by the District government. The firm was paid the money as a subcontractor to a team hired to run emergency preparedness seminars.

Metro researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.

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