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A Few Degrees of Separation From Hillary Clinton's Top Adviser

By Jeffrey H. Birnbaum
Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Mark J. Penn is a man who wears many hats: high-paid political and corporate pollster, chief executive of an international communications and lobbying company, and chief strategist to New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's bid for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Enough connections for you?

Well, there are more. Penn's firm, Burson-Marsteller Worldwide -- with 2,000 employees and $300 million a year in revenue -- owns BKSH & Associates, the major lobbying firm chaired by Charles R. Black Jr. That's right, Black, counselor to Republican presidents, reports to Clinton's top strategist.

The connections get even more entangled. Burson-Marsteller is a subsidiary of WPP Group, a London-based advertising and PR giant that owns many of the biggest names on K Street. These include Quinn Gillespie & Associates, Wexler & Walker Public Policy Associates, Timmons & Co., Ogilvy Government Relations Worldwide (formerly the Federalist Group), Public Strategies Inc., Dewey Square Group and Hill & Knowlton.

To be more precise, Penn's parent company employs as lobbyists and advisers an ex-chairman of the Republican National Committee (Edward W. Gillespie), a former House GOP leader (Robert S. Walker), a top GOP fundraiser (Wayne L. Berman), and the former media adviser to President Bush (Mark McKinnon).

WPP's Democrats are just as well known. They include an ex-aide to President Jimmy Carter (Anne Wexler), an ex-aide to President Bill Clinton (Jack Quinn), an ex-Cabinet officer for Clinton and Bush (Norman Y. Mineta), and a former top presidential campaign adviser for Al Gore and John Kerry (Michael J. Whouley).

The range of interests represented by these people is a staggering list of corporate America's who's who, with Penn himself a longtime adviser to Microsoft.

"This is a classic example of how big money has inextricably intertwined the campaign advising and lobbying worlds of modern-day Washington with potential conflicts of interest all over the place," said Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, a watchdog group.

WPP insists that things are not quite so intertwined and that its units are strictly segregated. "The various WPP businesses are purposely run independently, and there is no risk of any conflict between clients," said Howard Paster, who is Penn's boss, an ex-aide to President Clinton and a high-level volunteer for Hillary Clinton's campaign.

"I also, personally, don't do any lobbying," added Penn, 53.

But WPP does encourage cross-referrals, especially to avoid conflicts within its firms. "We occasionally will do things with one of the other companies," said Quinn, whose firm worked with Burson-Marsteller's polling firm, Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates, on the reelection of Italy's former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. The polling firm, of which Penn remains president, is the WPP unit that will be paid millions by the Clinton campaign for Penn's attention.

Jefferson's Reprieve?

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit has reversed the conviction of a former District police detective in a case that experts believe might make it tougher for the feds to prosecute Rep. William J. Jefferson (D-La.).

The court voted 7 to 5 on Feb. 9 to overturn the 2002 conviction of Nelson Valdes on three counts of receiving illegal gratuities. Prosecutors said he passed along information from restricted law enforcement databases to an FBI informant who paid him $450.

But the court ruled that the gratuities law did not apply to Valdes's conduct -- his use of the databases was not "an official act" because it did not spur a police investigation.

The same issue hovers around Jefferson. He's under investigation for allegedly taking cash -- $90,000 of which was famously found in his freezer -- in exchange for using his congressional clout to arrange business deals. Two businessmen have pleaded guilty to giving Jefferson money to promote a company marketing new technology in Africa. But was that promotion an "official act"?

Earmarks Were Us

Citizens Against Government Waste is Washington's leading opponent of pork-barrel spending. Its annual Pig Book, which lists the government's narrow giveaways, is used by news outlets worldwide to ridicule federal earmarks.

But now that these pet projects are being scaled back -- the Pig Book this year will be more a pamphlet than a book -- CAGW is expanding its other efforts against government wastefulness. It is stepping up campaigns against farm subsidies and federal interference on the Internet. It's also going global, fostering affiliates as far flung as South Korea and Jamaica.

Democratic Hires of the Week

Democrats, who are now in demand thanks to their takeover on Capitol Hill, are shuffling jobs all over town. Bruce Andrews was stolen away from Quinn Gillespie & Associates to run the Washington office of Ford Motor Co. He will be replaced at Quinn Gillespie by Chris McCannell, former chief of staff to Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.).

Elsewhere, Stephen Brown left Dutko Worldwide to open the Washington office for Tesoro, an oil refining and marketing firm. R. Scott Silverthorne left the Capital One Financial's lobby shop to become vice president for government affairs of MasterCard Worldwide. And Broderick Johnson, a former chief House lobbyist for President Bill Clinton, is moving to Bryan Cave Strategies from AT&T. Johnson, one of Washington's top African American lobbyists, was pursued for weeks by several firms and was represented by superlawyer Robert Barnett.

It's All in a Name

RightClick Strategies, a consulting firm that has long helped Republican lawmakers design their Web sites, changed its name after last year's elections to Adfero Group, erasing any implication that it's only right-leaning. The firm said the switch was planned before the Democratic sweep.

Parry, Romani DeConcini & Symms, on the other hand, is extremely straightforward. Its Web site is LobbyCongress.com.

Please send e-mail tokstreet@washpost.com.

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