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Lobbyists Take Leave to Advise Kerry Campaign

By Jeffrey H. Birnbaum
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 8, 2004; Page E01

In bolstering his inner circle of advisers with veterans from previous Democratic campaigns, Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.) has also chosen to hire lobbyists with close ties to a wide array of businesses, including drug companies and Microsoft Corp.

Joel P. Johnson, Joe Lockhart, Howard Wolfson and Michael J. Whouley are best known as Democratic insiders. Johnson and Lockhart worked as senior communications aides in the White House of President Bill Clinton. Wolfson was spokesman for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Whouley has played senior roles in Democratic presidential campaigns going back a dozen years.

But until they jumped to the Kerry campaign or the Democratic National Committee (DNC) as part of a recent personnel shake-up, all four also worked for lobbying companies that either explicitly registered as federal lobbyists or assisted corporations with their lobbying efforts. All four have taken leaves of absence to join the campaign.

The new hires add an extra burden to the Kerry campaign, which has often lambasted its opponent, President Bush, for being too close to special interests.

"If Kerry is trying to show he's for lobbying reform and is independent of special interests, this set of personnel changes is not a good thing," said James A. Thurber, a political scientist at American University. "Then again, the hires are typical of the revolving door that exists between those who run campaigns and those who lobby."

Bush's reelection effort also has enlisted the services of lobbyists. The president's campaign uses as volunteer regional chairmen former Christian Coalition executive director Ralph Reed and former Rep. Vin Weber (R-Minn.), both of whom do lobbying-related work. In addition, a number of lobbyists took leaves from their jobs to help run the Republican National Convention last week.

The concern with such revolving-door practices is generally that the corporate clients might get extra access to the candidates whom the lobbyists are helping to elect. Such access is rare and hard for average citizens to obtain.

The Kerry campaign and its allied efforts at the DNC are now top-heavy with lobbyists on leave. Until he joined the campaign's communications effort last week, Johnson was managing director of the Harbour Group LLC, a Democratic lobbying firm in the District whose clients have included companies in the oil, airline, pharmaceutical and food processing industries, according to public filings and the firm's Web site.

Johnson has acted as a strategist for two of the business world's thorniest legislative issues. He represented the Asbestos Study Group, a coalition of companies including Honeywell and Pfizer that is trying to pass legislation to impose a universal settlement on asbestos lawsuits. He also has battled the big regional telephone companies on behalf of Nextel Communications Inc., which wants to purchase publicly owned radio-wave spectrum to bolster its wireless phone service.

Whouley's Dewey Square Group is one of the country's foremost experts in so-called grass-roots and grass-tops lobbying. His firm has been paid by General Motors Corp., the American Insurance Association, AT&T Corp., Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association and Microsoft, among others, to drum up support from voters for legislation the companies advocate. Whouley is now working at the DNC.

Both Whouley's and Johnson's companies also work regularly with Republican lobbying firms to aid their industry clients. Whouley's firm routinely partners with Feather, Larson & Synhorst DCI, which, in addition to its corporate lobbying work, helps raise money for Bush's campaign. Johnson's Harbour Group often teams up with Alexander Strategy Group, a lobbying firm headed by Ed Buckham, a former chief of staff to House Majority Leader Tom Delay (R-Tex.). The Harbour Group and Alexander Strategy Group are housed together in offices on K Street, the District's lobbyist boulevard.

Lockhart and Wolfson have been partners in the Glover Park Group, a D.C. consultancy that specializes in helping companies and associations achieve their legislative aims through television advertising and public relations. Lockhart, who is now with the Kerry campaign, has worked for Microsoft and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, a Glover Park Group spokesman said. Wolfson, who is now at the Democratic National Committee, has assisted NARAL Pro-Choice America, among others. According to its Web site, the Glover Park Group, which is part-owned by both men, has also been retained by Pfizer, Fannie Mae and the United States Telecom Association, which represents the regional telephone companies.

Neither the Kerry campaign nor the DNC have any qualms about bringing the lobbyists on board.

"Both Joel Johnson and Joe Lockhart have decades of experience in the Clinton White House, Capitol Hill and many presidential and congressional campaigns. We appreciate them putting aside their private sector work to help our campaign in the home stretch," said Michael Meehan, a spokesman for the Kerry campaign.

Jano Cabrera, spokesman for the DNC, said, "Neither Michael Whouley nor Howard Wolfson are currently registered lobbyists. These gentlemen were brought here and welcomed here because collectively they bring a wealth of communications and political expertise."

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