A Rising Star in the Hold-Your-Nose Industries

By Jeffrey H. Birnbaum
Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Jack N. Gerard is about to become the most hated man in Washington. Gerard, 50, will take over this fall as president of the American Petroleum Institute. That will make him chief spokesman for the oil and gas industry, the delightful folks who brought us $4-a-gallon gasoline.

Thanks for nothin', Jack.

Unless something changes drastically between now and then, Gerard will spend most of his time begging a Democratic Congress not to raise his members' taxes by billions of dollars -- or something even worse.

"Jack has the toughest job in Washington," said R. Skip Horvath, president of the Natural Gas Supply Association. "Whether anyone can do it or not, we'll find out."

Gerard is amazingly serene at the prospect. He says he's actually looking forward to it. "Each opportunity poses its own challenge," he said. "My career has been filled with those challenges."

That's for sure. Gerard has been a rising star among the people who are considered experts in defending hold-your-nose industries.

He's currently president of the lobby for chemical manufacturers. Before that, he headed the trade association for mines.

If anyone knows how to put the best spin on companies that the public can't stand, it's Jack Gerard. That's probably why he was chosen for the new job.

Another reason is that he and the man he's replacing, Red Cavaney, see lobbying as a decidedly public enterprise -- despite its cloak-and-dagger reputation.

Most citizens imagine that influencing government is about secret meetings and quiet support. While those certainly are parts of the game, the most important and most expensive component these days is aggressively overt -- the very-much-out-in-the-open battle for Americans' hearts and minds.

"When industries are confronted by challenges, they tend to get shellshocked and step back into the foxhole," Gerard said. "My philosophy is the opposite. Industries need someone to step forward and make the case when people don't understand them."

He continued: "Because there's a lot of anxiety in the Congress about the industry, we have to step forward and be compelling in our advocacy. It's not a time to be bashful. The more transparent the discussion, the better off we'll be."

As any reader of newspapers or watcher of public-affairs television knows, the oil-and-gas lobby already has been spending tens of millions of dollars on advertising -- a program that the soon-to-retire Cavaney initiated and that Gerard clearly wants to extend.

Gerard has grown accustomed to handling such large and demanding jobs. When he joined the National Mining Association in 2001, he had to hold together disparate factions from what had been two separate organizations, the National Coal Association and the American Mining Congress.

When he moved to the American Chemistry Council 3 1/2 years later, his mandate was even tougher. That group also was struggling to bring into the fold feuding factions, including the makers of plastics. On top of that, some of the group's most substantial members had bolted, leaving its finances in shambles.

Gerard managed to create peace and prosperity from the wreckage. The infighting ceased, 33 new companies joined and several large defectors returned, including Chevron, Phillips Chemical and Huntsman. When Gerard first came aboard, the American Chemistry Council faced an $8 million deficit; it now has a $10 million reserve.

Gerard also scored some legislative victories. He helped lead the effort to open a part of the Outer Continental Shelf to natural-gas drilling, championed chemical plant security legislation and began to challenge monopoly protections for railroads -- laws that he says drive up chemical manufacturers' transportation costs.

Not everyone is a fan. "He's been buying friends in Congress and covering for an industry that's under a lot of pressure," said Kert Davies, research director of Greenpeace, the environmental lobby. "Next year, he'll have a battle royale. It's going to be quite a bloodbath on Capitol Hill."

Fellow sitters on the hot seat know just how difficult Gerard's life soon will become. "You've got to have a little bit of armadillo hide to withstand the rigors the job presents," said James C. May, president of the Air Transport Association, which represents another group of sweethearts, the airline industry.

But Gerard says he's ready. "You're here to be respected," he said, "not loved."

With the price of gas surpassing $4 a gallon, he probably will have to fight for the respect.

Sign of the Times?

Sometimes the most difficult problems can be handled with the easiest solutions. At least that's what it looks as though former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) has been able to pull off on the issue of oil exploration.

Congress has tied itself in knots over whether to permit more domestic drilling for oil and gas. But Gingrich, through his organization, American Solutions for Winning the Future, has come up with a phrase that has inspired a torrent of support via the Internet.

In just three weeks, more than 750,000 people have signed on to a cyber-petition that endorses the phrase "Drill Here, Drill Now, Pay Less." In a single day last week, nearly 100,000 people endorsed the simple-to-understand concept.

"It's far exceeded all of our expectations," said Dan Kotman, spokesman for the group.

The price of gasoline certainly helps.

Gingrich plans to collect 3 million names and present them (no doubt with a media-heavy flourish) at both parties' national conventions at the end of the summer. At this rate, he'll have no trouble reaching that goal.

Hire of the Week

One of the highest-ranking beneficiaries of the infamous K Street Project -- the effort by senior Republican lawmakers to pressure lobbies to hire fellow Republicans -- has decided to move on.

Daniel Crowley, chief government affairs officer for the Investment Company Institute, the main lobby for mutual funds, has decided to leave after five years on the job. He got the gig after Michael G. Oxley (R-Ohio), then chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, and his top aides pressured the institute to push aside Julie Domenick as its top lobbyist.

Oxley's staff suggested to industry officials at the time that a congressional probe of the mutual fund industry might ease up if the institute complied. Domenick was not fired but eventually left and is now president of her own lobbying firm, Multiple Strategies, where she represents the institute.

In an interview, Crowley, 45, said he is departing because freelance lobbying soon will grow rapidly as Congress looks to increase regulation and taxation, and clients look for help. Institute spokesman Greg Ahern said Korn/Ferry International is heading a search for Crowley's replacement and is "agnostic as to whether it's a Republican or a Democrat."

Please send e-mail to kstreet@washpost.com.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company