Molinari Catches a Major Promotion on K Street

Posted January 9, 2004 at 3:31pm

In the latest sign of the Republican Party’s growing influence on K Street, former Rep. Susan Molinari (R-N.Y.) inked a deal last week that will make her the face of the Washington operations of public relations giant Ketchum.

Molinari’s deal also marks a dramatic GOP conversion for Ketchum’s lobbying arm, the Washington Group, from a firm founded by current Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe to one led by a well-known Republican.

According to the terms of the deal, Molinari will become president of Ketchum’s public affairs unit in addition to serving as chairwoman of the Washington Group.

Molinari and Ketchum negotiated the arrangement over much of the past year, spurred in part by Molinari’s decision in early 2003 to weigh a job as the head of the Recording Industry Association of America that eventually went to GOP heavyweight Mitch Bainwol.

By putting Molinari in charge of both divisions, Ketchum ensures that she will stay at the firm while being able to provide its clients with an integrated public relations and lobbying operation.

In a statement, Molinari said the combination will allow Ketchum and the Washington Group to offer “world-class public affairs capabilities from media and crisis communications to grassroots, ally development and coalition-building, issue management and advertising.”

Ketchum’s decision to integrate the two offices reflects a growing desire by businesses and interest groups to reinforce their lobbying campaigns with television or newspaper advertisements and grassroots activities.

“There’s been a real change during the last few years in how public affairs is practiced,” said Lorraine Thelian, a partner with Ketchum.

Ketchum also hopes the new arrangement will help the Washington Group continue to climb the ranks of Washington’s biggest lobbying firms. After Molinari joined the firm in late 2002, lobbying revenues jumped 85 percent to $9 million, placing the Washington Group at No. 15 on Roll Call’s list of the top lobbying firms of 2002.

Though lobbying figures for all of 2003 will not be available for several months, the firm reported $4.6 million in fees in the first six months of the year, according to PoliticalMoneyLine.com.

The firm’s biggest clients include the Air Transport Association, Freddie Mac, Microsoft, BellSouth, Delta Airlines and Exelon.

Molinari’s promotion is the latest in a series of moves by various firms to add high-profile Republicans to their rosters now that the GOP controls the White House and both chambers of Congress.

In the past few months, Ford Motor Co. has hired departing White House lobbyist Ziad Ojakli; Cassidy & Associates lured Gregg Hartley from Rep. Roy Blunt’s (R-Mo.) office; and The Navigators plucked Cesar Conda from the office of Vice President Cheney.

But no transition has been more sweeping than the Washington Group, once an all- Democratic firm known as McAuliffe, Kelly & Raffaelli. After Republicans took over Congress in 1994, the firm gradually increased the number of Republican lobbyists on its payroll. In 1997, it changed its name to the Washington Group to try to downplay its Democratic ties.

Today, the firm includes a host of Republican lobbyists, such as David Crane, a former aide to Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Trent Lott (R-Miss.); Missy Edwards, a one-time staffer to Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.); and Harry Sporidis, who once worked for Rep. Mike Bilirakis (R-Fla.).