By Amy Gardner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 26, 2009
Terry McAuliffe came under fire from a Democratic opponent in the race for Virginia governor yesterday for accepting fundraising help from a top Republican lobbyist -- the sharpest attack yet targeting McAuliffe's history as a Washington political insider.
Democrat Brian Moran chastised McAuliffe for teaming up Tuesday with Ed Rogers, a lobbyist and frequent TV commentator who carried the Republican message last year with pointed references to President Obama's middle name, Hussein.
The jab from Moran, an Alexandria lawyer, represented the first skirmish in a three-way Democratic primary that is likely to become increasingly sharp-edged as Moran and state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds of Bath seek to offset McAuliffe's high-wattage personality and ability to raise money.
It was also the first of what are likely to be numerous attempts before the June 9 vote to turn the political career of McAuliffe, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, into a liability.
Moran's campaign manager, Andrew Roos, said that McAuliffe's willingness to take money from a Republican operative who fought Obama is "unconscionable" and "no different than having a fundraiser with Rush Limbaugh." But a fundraiser Tuesday hosted in part by Rogers illustrates something else, too, Roos said: McAuliffe's deep ties to the political culture of Washington and its lobbying industry.
"These are the people that have made 'lobbyist' a bad word for so many Americans," Roos said.
McAuliffe's campaign responded swiftly, saying that such fundraisers are essential if he is to gather enough money to compete in the fall against former attorney general Robert F. McDonnell, the presumptive Republican gubernatorial nominee.
Spokeswoman Elisabeth Smith said McAuliffe's Washington ties are irrelevant in a campaign that is about Virginia and in which he has promised to produce jobs and limit the money he takes from companies receiving federal bailout funds.
"Terry McAuliffe has a long history of standing up to corporate corruption, including throwing Enron lobbyists out of his office at the DNC," Smith said.
A Deeds spokeswoman, Brooke Borkenhagen, said the skirmish will hurt the party. "The stakes are too high in this election."
At issue was a fundraiser Tuesday at the offices of the BGR Group, a lobbying firm, in Northwest Washington. The invitation advertised a "recommended minimum" donation of $1,000, and it featured 11 event chairs, including Rogers, who helped found BGR as a Republican-leaning company in the 1990s.
McAuliffe's campaign said that BGR is a "bipartisan" firm and that all of the other event chairs were Democrats, including longtime McAuliffe friend Jonathan Mantz, former national finance director for Hillary Rodham Clinton. Mantz was the principal host of the event, he and others said.
"No one has worked harder to advocate for progressive issues and Democratic principles and to put his money where his mouth is to elect people to Congress, to the White House, to governor's mansions, to state legislatures, to city halls, than Terry McAuliffe," Mantz said. "The man has been a tireless advocate, and he has a lot of friends."
McAuliffe has been close to Rogers and his original partner at BGR, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R). McAuliffe partnered with Rogers, Barbour and other D.C. lobbyists in a downtown restaurant, the Caucus Room, billed as a political insiders' hangout when it opened at the start of the decade.
McAuliffe is also no stranger to the lobbying industry, having run a Washington law firm, McAuliffe Kelly Raffaelli, with a successful lobbying unit. In the 1990s, the company represented clients including the governments of Turkey, China and India; the American Nuclear Energy Council; fast-food franchises; and the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association.
McAuliffe never did direct lobbying himself, focusing instead on business development -- much like Moran and Deeds, who worked at private law firms with lobbying arms. Moran's Alexandria firm lobbied on federal issues, and a Richmond firm where Deeds once worked lobbied on state issues. McAuliffe's campaign said McAuliffe Kelly Raffaelli's clients also included the Human Rights Campaign Fund, the Arlington Cancer Center and Bay Area Rapid Transit.