At the Tower of Barbour, Adjusting That Rightward Tilt

By Jeffrey H. Birnbaum
Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The granddaddy of Republican lobbying shops, Barbour Griffith & Rogers, has decided to go bipartisan.

Starting next year, the capital's largest and longest-lived all-GOP firm will hire Democrats.

The surprise move, announced exclusively in this column, is the most substantial evidence to date that the city's political professionals are expecting Democrats to remain in important positions of power in Washington for a long time to come.

"I'm not going to deny the obvious," said BGR's chairman, Ed Rogers. "The expectations of our clients are such that we have to have a full range of political, policy and business expertise, and in today's world that includes Democrats."

BGR, the capital's sixth-largest firm, with lobbying revenue of $11.5 million in the first half of 2007, was founded 16 years ago by former Republican National Committee chairman Haley Barbour (now the governor of Mississippi) and two of his longtime associates, Lanny Griffith and Rogers. Barbour is no longer involved with the firm; Griffith is the firm's chief executive.

Since the company's inception, everyone who has worked there, including the secretaries (as Barbour was once proud to say), has been a Republican.

But in recent months that has increasingly become just window dressing. When Democrats took control of Congress after last year's elections, BGR began to subcontract with Democratic-leaning firms more than ever to ensure that its clients could communicate easily with the Democrats in charge. BGR has worked with Elmendorf Strategies, the Ickes and Enright Group, and the Podesta Group, for example.

That was not the cheapest way to maintain such contacts, so BGR has decided to drop the pretense and hire -- and maybe also form a partnership with -- its own set of Democratic lobbyists. Its first, big-name Democratic hire, will be announced early next month.

BGR is also changing in other ways. It's taking a new name -- BGR Holdings LLC -- and plans to expand its services to include public relations, crisis management and various support services for corporate transactions, adding about 10 professionals to its current roster of 17. It will also increase the amount of commercial, non-government-related advice it gives. The company has already made a bundle connecting one business to another in such areas as oil and shipping, and it hopes to do even more of that.

"Our firm is big and multifaceted, and we have to change with the town, not just in terms of politics but also with our business offerings," Rogers said. "A lot of what we do is business-to-business relationships and international policy disputes."

The firm is not restructuring because it has fallen on hard times. Quite the opposite. BGR said its revenue this year will exceed $24 million, a record. Its clients include such blue-chip corporations as Citigroup, IBM, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon, as well as major foreign entities, among them the Kurds of northern Iraq and the government of India.

This is not the firm's first major rebranding. In 1999, it was purchased by Interpublic Group of Companies, the international advertising and communication company that also owns Cassidy & Associates. But its executives bought the firm back four years later.

Its decision to add Democrats is also part of a rapidly spreading trend on K Street. The Washington Group, for instance, is searching for a Democratic co-chairman to run the firm along with former congresswomen Susan Molinari (R-N.Y.). The once-all-GOP lobbying firm the Federalist Group changed its Republican-sounding name to Ogilvy Government Relations and has been adding Democrats to its staff.

The top managers of BGR plan to stay together, as they have for many years. Rogers first met Barbour in 1975 during Gerald Ford's run for president. Rogers was an 11th-grader grateful for the chance to drive Barbour, a regional political director, around Rogers's native Birmingham.

They've certainly come a long way since then.

Hiding the Ball on CAFE?

Two former secretaries of transportation -- Norman Y. Mineta and Rodney E. Slater-- wrote a letter to senators decrying a provision in the pending energy bill that would allow the Environmental Protection Agency "to pursue its own separate, unharmonized rulemaking track" on fuel efficiency standards. They point out that the Transportation Department has long had sole authority over so-called CAFE standards and has done "painstaking work."

Their view -- that the DOT and EPA should "work in concert" -- mirrors the auto industry's position, and why not? Mineta is vice chairman of Hill & Knowlton, a PR firm that has Mazda as a client, and Slater is chairman of Driving America's Future, a coalition that has General Motors as a leading member and has urged restraint on CAFE standards.

The letter, however, does not disclose these connections, an omission that riled environmentalists. The reason: Environmentalists say that carmakers want to have more influence over the car-friendly DOT and undercut the authority the Supreme Court gave the EPA earlier this year to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from tailpipes.

"Messrs. Slater and Mineta did almost nothing to cut auto emissions when they were secretaries of transportation," complained Dan Becker, a consultant formerly with the Sierra Club. "So it is appalling but not surprising that now that they work for auto companies they are trying to enshrine their inaction in law."

A spokesman for Mineta, Douglas A. Smith, said the former secretary was acting as an "elder statesman" and in the interest of "good government," not for the auto industry. Slater did not return phone calls.

Hire of the Week

The Podesta Group has hired David Morrison, a veteran Capitol Hill staff member and expert in military appropriations.

Morrison, 50, was staff director of the House Appropriations Committee's defense subcommittee. That made him the principal defense adviser to subcommittee Chairman John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) and to House Appropriations Committee Chairman David R. Obey (D-Wis.).

Morrison previously worked for the White House's Office of Management and Budget and for the Senate Appropriations Committee.

As a Democrat with such wide experience, Morrison was courted by lots of K Street firms, but he said he was glad to have landed at Podesta Group, where he will "apprentice" himself to his new boss, Anthony T. Podesta.

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