In hiring new lobbyists, GM shows that it's playing the Beltway game

John T. Montford, a Democrat and former Texas senator, is one of the new hires. He used to be a senior AT& T executive.
John T. Montford, a Democrat and former Texas senator, is one of the new hires. He used to be a senior AT& T executive. (Gloria Ferniz/san Antonio Express-news)
By Peter Whoriskey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 2, 2010

In naming new leaders to General Motors' lobbying office in Washington on Wednesday, company chairman and chief executive Edward E. Whitacre Jr. tacitly underscored the importance of government policies to the recovery of the nation's largest automaker, according to those who follow the industry.

Over the next year, the Obama administration and Congress are slated to consider several issues critical to the automaker as it continues its comeback effort: a new national manufacturing policy, climate legislation, federal support for electric cars and other advanced technology, trade issues with Korea and China.

That means the company still requires lobbyists, even though the United States has owned a majority stake of the company since its bankruptcy proceedings last summer.

"The administration has been true to their word to staying out of our day-to-day business," GM spokesman Greg Martin said. "But we have to make sure that government policies continue to ensure our competitiveness and ensure that we remain on a path to repay the loans."

Whitacre, the former chief of AT&T, named two men with AT&T experience to lead the Washington office with the departure of Ken W. Cole, 62, who joined GM in 2001.

John T. Montford, 66, a Democrat and former member of the Texas Senate, had been senior vice president of state legislative affairs for AT&T.

Robert E. Ferguson, 50, a Republican and former chief of staff to John Ashcroft when he was governor of Missouri, had served as president of state legislative and regulatory affairs at AT&T from 2005 to 2008.

The GM lobbying office has been skewed toward Republicans, a reflection in part of the eight years of the Bush administration. Currently, of six lobbyists, at least four are Republicans.

"John and Bob are proven professionals who have worked in an environment of intense regulatory and political complexity," Whitacre said in a statement.

In building one of the "Baby Bells" into telecom giant AT&T, Whitacre is familiar with the role government can play in a company's fate.

"It's safe to say he appreciates the importance of Washington as it effects his business," said David Kaut, a telecom analyst at Stifel Nicolaus.

"For his entire tenure at SBC and then AT&T, Whitacre has been involved nonstop in policy issues," Kaut said, primarily merger and deregulation issues. "They were pretty effective. They didn't win all the battles. But today, they are one of the two big Bells still standing."

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