Gillespie Returns To West Wing



When Ed Gillespie begins his new job as counselor to President Bush, it will mark the ninth time he has left his seven-year-old lobbying firm, Quinn Gillespie & Associates, to work on a political campaign or an administration initiative.

"Yeah, I'm a little ADD," he says.

While Gillespie's job shifts may be reaching Guinness Record levels, a career track that weaves through politics, government and the private sector is increasingly common in the lobbying world.

The Bush administration, which once shunned Washington insiders, has recently added some new track marks as it struggles to adjust to a Democratic Congress and the collapse of public support for the Iraq war.

The law firm of Wiley Rein & Fielding is now known as Wiley Rein after partner Fred Fielding left to become the White House counsel. Bush's main lobbyist in the House today is Dan Meyer, who not too long ago was pitching client issues to lawmakers for the Duberstein Group.

Next week, Gillespie becomes a counselor to the president, a wide-ranging job that's likely to tap his public relations skills more than his ability to move votes or win client favors in the House or Senate.

From parking cars to the President

Gillespie's Capitol Hill roots go back 25 years to when he parked cars in the Senate garage. He later became a senior aide to former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) and then took over communications and congressional affairs for the Republican National Committee under Chairman Haley Barbour.

He started his lobbying career at Barbour's firm, Barbour Griffith & Rogers.

In 2000, he joined forces with former Clinton White House lawyer Jack Quinn to open the firm. But the doors of their new shop were barely open when Gillespie was walking out to help coordinate the Republican convention for Bush's first nomination.

He stayed on as an adviser with the campaign after the convention and became a chief spokesman during the Florida recount fight.

After the election, Gillespie was tapped again to help organize Bush's inauguration, and he took a few more weeks off in 2001 to put together the public relations office in the Commerce Department.

In 2002, he vanished to North Carolina, where he ran Republican Sen. Elizabeth Dole's first campaign. A year later, he was recruited by Bush to become chairman of the Republican National Committee.

When his term ended at the RNC in 2005, he returned full time to the lobbying firm. But not for long. In the fall, Bush called on him once more to help shepherd his two U.S. Supreme Court nominees through the Senate.

After Republican losses last November in Virginia, Gillespie signed up to take over his home state's Republican Party.

AT&T, Verizon, and Chrysler - to name a few

Throughout most of those projects, Gillespie had continued to receive a salary from the firm, which last year reported earnings of nearly $17 million.

Among its clients are some with big interests before the government, including AT&T, Verizon and Chrysler.

Some government watchdog groups say Gillespie's appointment could work to their benefit, since he would be sympathetic to their concerns. But Gillespie has said he would recuse himself from issues that relate to his former clients.

In addition, he is severing all financial ties to the firm, although it will continue to operate with his name on the shingle. "It's definitely going to be much longer hours and much less pay," he said. "We have a house on the Jersey Shore. We don't have to sell it, but I don't think we're going to see much of it."

While Gillespie must adapt to full-time government service, some adjustments are also under way in his lobbying shop. Before the White House announcement, Gillespie called all of his clients to alert them to the possibility of his departure and reassure them the 30-employee firm could carry on their advocacy.

All of hem stayed put, and now their accounts have been assigned to other lobbyists.

David Hoppe, a former senior aide to Mississippi Republican Sen. Trent Lott, was promoted from the firm's vice chairman slot to become its most public Republican face.

'Pretty darn well'

Jack Quinn, who had been co-chairman with Gillespie, now becomes the lone president.

Rick Powell, the firm's managing director, said the transition has gone smoothly. "In all honesty, we are used to our principals moving in and out of the firm to participate in the political process and in government service," he said, noting that one of the firm's Democratic lobbyists is now working on the presidential campaign of Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware.

Quinn also has gotten accustomed to the comings and goings of his partner. "We've been through this before. We have the drill down pretty darn well," he said. Recalling his own days in the White House, he can understand the lure for Gillespie to work in the West Wing.

Still, he's mixed about whether he wants his old friend to produce strong results.

"As a Democrat, I am eager for the day when this administration is over," Quinn said. "But as long as it is there, I want people as good and decent and patriotic as Ed in those jobs."

Pit Boss is a weekly column that explores the intersection of lobbying and politics. Please send any tips for tracking Washington's most lucrative industry to pitboss@politico.com.
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