A June 24 article incorrectly stated that Ed Gillespie "is a paid lobbyist for Enron." Gillespie said his contract to lobby for the firm ended over six months ago. (Published 6/25/02)
At the juncture where lobbying, politics and punditry meet -- where traditional job descriptions and professional restraints have virtually evaporated -- Ed Gillespie has emerged as a one-stop power broker. He advises top White House officials, works for GOP congressional campaigns, lobbies for major corporations and opines on political talk shows.
Gillespie, 40, personifies a bipartisan culture shift in Washington, in which influence-peddlers don't have to limit themselves to one, two or even three high-profile roles. The potential for conflicts of interest may seem obvious, but some in Washington say operators such as Gillespie thrive precisely because their roles are so open for all to see.
Presidential aides know Gillespie is a paid lobbyist for Enron Corp., the steel industry and several other interests, but they value his advice on corporate issues nonetheless. Those corporations, meanwhile, are happy that their lobbyist has strong ties to the White House and top congressional Republicans -- advantages they feel outweigh concerns about potential Democratic retribution to Gillespie clients.
In dealing with a multifaceted figure such as Gillespie, "all the major players think they are getting something from the system," said Larry Noble, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics. "The politicians get a fundraiser, the media gets someone with the inside story, and the lobbying clients get someone with access."
Or as Charles Lewis, executive director of the Center for Public Integrity, puts it: Washington is dominated by "the mercenary culture. . . . Who is to complain, other than the public?"
Gillespie certainly isn't complaining. Since early 2000 -- when he teamed with Democratic lobbyist-adviser-lawyer Jack Quinn to form Quinn Gillespie & Associates -- he has racked up an impressive list of accomplishments. For instance, he:
* Built a lucrative client list that has included Allegiance Healthcare Corp., the American Hospital Association, Enron, the American Insurance Association, Coca Cola Co., Intel Corp., the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association, Cisco Systems Inc., DaimlerChrysler AG, Microsoft Corp., the steel industry's Stand Up for Steel coalition, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Health Insurance Association of America, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP and the Recording Industry Association of America. The firm's revenue in the first two years totaled approximately $25 million, including estimates of unreported public relations fees.
* Held a total of at least six formal and informal positions in the Bush campaign, the Bush inaugural committee and the Bush transition team.
* Won several victories for his clients in the form of Bush administration decisions. Gillespie successfully urged Treasury Secretary Paul H. O'Neill to put off a proposal to allow banks into the real estate brokerage business, a crucial issue for Gillespie's client, the National Association of Realtors. More significantly, he persuaded the normally pro-free-trade Bush administration to back protective steel tariffs, despite strong ideological and political opposition from key Republican constituencies.
"What Ed did was play a role we needed, and which the White House needed," said Terrence D. Straub, vice president for government affairs at United States Steel Corp. "He had the confidence of both parties. He was the bridge."
* Appeared repeatedly on network and cable TV news shows, where he has promoted administration tax and energy policies without always being linked on air to his many clients.
Gillespie is the logical extension of the trend, over the past 25 years, toward corporatized political advocacy. Al Gore's presidential campaign, for example, had its own share of official and unofficial advisers from the lobbying community. In 1999, key Gore adviser and fundraiser Peter Knight represented Bell Atlantic Co., Lockheed Martin Corp. and Schering-Plough Corp.
Nor was Gillespie the only lobbyist active in Bush's transition. Eighteen of the 38 transition advisers at the Department of Interior, 17 of the 48 at the Department of Energy and 13 of 31 at Agriculture were either lobbyists or ranking corporate executives, according to the Environmental Working Group, a group critical of Bush energy policies.
Lobbying, once the province of a secretive network of men who met quietly with congressional leaders and presidential aides, has evolved steadily for decades. Business groups, for example, have had to learn how to respond to assertive consumer advocates such as Ralph Nader.
Now, lobbyists increasingly use high-visibility tactics, employing political operatives to generate "grass-roots" pressure and television and e-mail as weapons in the battle for congressional votes. Many lobbyists also are paid campaign consultants, giving them leverage over elected officials who depend on their advice for political survival.
Gillespie, an architect of Newt Gingrich's "Contract With America" and of the 1994 Republican takeover of the House, began his political career about a decade earlier, working for Rep. Andy Ireland (R-Fla.). In 1985, he took a job with then-freshman Rep. Richard K. Armey (R-Tex.), now the House majority leader.
Gillespie was staff director of the Joint Economic Committee and policy and communications director for both Armey and the House Republican Conference. After leaving the Hill in 1995, he became director of communications and congressional relations for the Republican National Committee.
Two years later, he and former RNC chairman Haley Barbour set up Policy Impact Communications, an affiliate company to Barbour's Washington lobbying firm.
In 2000, Gillespie formed his own lobbying firm with Quinn, a former White House counsel for Bill Clinton and a top adviser to Gore. The two men remain starkly opposed in their partisan politics, and Gillespie made clear he would mix lobbying with intense Republican advocacy. He went to work full-time for Bush's 2000 presidential campaign in the crucial final months, winning praise for his handling of the convention in Philadelphia and for the campaign's September-October communications strategy.
"Eddie can paint the picture and then design the museum where the picture is going to hang," said Karl Rove, Bush's top political adviser.
Gillespie is equally aggressive in the private sector. In 2001, he channeled money from two clients, Enron and DaimlerChrysler, to two conservative organizations, Americans for Tax Reform and Citizens for a Sound Economy, to form the 21st Century Energy Project.
Gillespie made himself executive director of the project and saw no problem in pressing a populist message financed by Enron and DaimlerChrysler to promote the Bush energy program.
"The Democratic Party and its leadership is dominated by elitists who believe that the rest of us should carpool, while they drive their Chevy suburbans to the lake house for the weekend," Gillespie once said. Gillespie, who declined to be interviewed for this article, told Newsweek that the 21st Century project "was straightforward issue advocacy."
Some Democrats hope to use Gillespie's high profile against him. A test case is shaping up in North Carolina's Senate race, where Sen. Jesse Helms (R) is retiring and Gillespie is a key adviser to GOP hopeful Elizabeth Dole.
The North Carolina Democratic Party has issued at least four news releases referring to Gillespie and his work for Enron. "Now it's an Enron lobbyist she pays for advice," Scott Falmlen, the state Democratic Party's executive director, said earlier this year.
But even Gillespie's TV appearances, White House connections and big-name clients might not be enough to fuel a successful guilt-by-association campaign outside Washington.
"It's just too complex for the average voter," said a North Carolina Democrat. "It's hard to get people to focus on someone like Gillespie."