“His firm even lobbied for five foreign governments, including a dictator now awaiting trial for war crimes.”
— voiceover for new ad by Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.)
Ed Gillespie, the Republican challenger to Sen. Mark Warner, has long been a fixture in Washington, first as a Capitol Hill aide, then as a lobbyist in a firm he founded with a Democratic heavyweight, Jack Quinn. He also served as Republican National Committee chair and as a counselor to President George W. Bush.
So it’s no surprise that Warner would attack Gillespie as a lobbyist. But did he really lobby for a dictator?
This is one of those political ads that plays sleight of hand with words. The ad starts out by focusing on Gillespie: “He’s been called a super lobbyist…the ultimate Washington insider…paid millions to lobby for the oil companies….”
But then suddenly, as foreign flags appear, the wording changes: “His firm even lobbied for five foreign governments, including a dictator now awaiting trial for war crimes.”
Notice that it is no longer Gillespie, but his firm — a firm that, as we noted, was co-run by a leading Democrat.
The ad then shifts back to the Gillespie, noting he lobbied for Enron “while they committed the largest corporate fraud in history.” Gillespie indeed was one of the firm’s four lobbyists for Enron, primarily concerning regulation in California, but there’s no evidence he knew of the fraud — which fooled investors, the financial media, the Bush administration and all but a small percentage of the people working for the company.
The other four governments — identified only by their flags — are the Bosnian Serb Republic, Costa Rica, Macedonia and Pakistan. But what’s the link to the foreign dictator? He is not identified but it clearly is Laurent Gbagbo, who led the Ivory Coast from 2000 until his arrest and transfer to the International Criminal Court in 2011.
The Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), a 1938 law, requires lobbyists for foreign governments to disclose the reason they have been hired “as well as activities, receipts and disbursements in support of those activities.” We have embedded below the relevant FARA disclosures filed by Quinn Gillespie. You will search in vain for Ed Gillespie’s name, as all of the documents are signed by Jack Quinn, his Democratic partner.
Indeed, the deal with the Ivory Coast was inked on Nov. 10, 2004, and ended in April 2005. Where was Gillespie when the deal was set? He was on leave as RNC chairman from June 2003 to until February or March 2005. So this claim hinges on perhaps a one-month overlap. (Update: another FARA filing indicates the firm worked with the Ivory Coast government from the end of December through June of 2005.)
As our colleague Rachel Weiner reported, a 2012 New Yorker article disclosed that Jeff Connaughton, a Democrat and lobbyist for the firm, “believed that the firm was trying to get the Ivorian regime to do the right thing by holding elections.” Connaughton flew to the Ivory Coast, met with Gbagbo and found he “had no interest in democracy — he just wanted good P.R. The firm soon ended the relationship.”
Update: Saying the ad was “intentionally misleading,” Connaughton provided this statement to The Fact Checker:
The main point was that Ed was NEVER involved in any FARA work, made clear to Jack and me when we started the firm that he would not do FARA work. He was at the RNC when I decided to take the lead on Ivory Coast, so if anyone had checked with QGA or me we would have confirmed that Ed had absolutely NOTHING to do with it.
Connaughton further noted that the time of the representation, Gbagbo had been elected by a popular vote.
“The facts of the ad are accurate,” Warner spokesman David Turner said. “The firm is Quinn Gillespie Associates. He was at the firm at the time they represented these clients and thus profited off that representation.”
Gillespie spokesman Paul Logan noted that in December 2003 the firm was sold to WPP, a British public relations firm. He said Gillespie missed his third and final payout from the merger to join the Bush administration.
The Pinocchio Test
The ad’s shift from Gillespie’s lobbying to the firm’s lobbying is a slimy sleight of hand that most viewers of this ad would probably overlook. This is no evidence that Gillespie had anything to do with the Ivory Coast deal, which ended years before Gbagbo was shipped to the International Criminal Court. Gillespie certainly wasn’t there when the deal was inked, and he was barely back at the firm before the deal was terminated.
Yes, the firm briefly had a deal with the Ivory Coast. But there is no evidence Gillespie was ever involved, in either the lobbying or personally with Gbagbo. Warner earns Three Pinocchios.
Send us facts to check by filling out this form