Recounting Lobbying Gold

Posted June 18, 2004 at 5:02pm

Unlike most lobbyists, Marty Gold does not need to write big checks to gain valuable access to lawmakers.

Quite the opposite, in fact. Senators and their top aides routinely come knocking on his door in search of parliamentary expertise — a craft Gold has honed in his 30-plus years of straddling the hazy line that divides Capitol Hill and K Street.

In a recently released oral-history interview conducted by the Senate Historical Office Gold tells tales from both sides of that divide.

Gold earlier this year returned to the law firm Covington & Burling after spending a year back in the Senate helping Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) make the transition from chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee to Majority Leader. Frist took the position in the wake of Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott’s forced resignation following the Mississippi Republican’s controversial comments about the 1948 segregationist presidential platform of the late Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.).

In the oral history, Gold said it was Frist’s personal appeal in early January 2003 that convinced him to temporarily forsake the lucrative dollars of K Street to serve as Frist’s counsel.

“He said I should think about it not as a service to him particularly, but service to the institution,” Gold recounted. “If I would do that he would be most appreciative, and he understood that it would be difficult for me to make a long-term commitment.”

Gold, who had only recently joined Covington & Burling, hadn’t even unpacked his boxes yet. He discussed the request with his new partners and decided he needed to temporarily return to Capitol Hill.

“I did it because he cared enough to call, and because I could see the necessity for my being there,” Gold said. “I was told by Frist’s staff that he needed help in acclimating himself to the job, and that although it would be possible to offer that help from the outside, what he really needed was for me to be there full-time on the inside. So when I combined that thinking with his phone call, and with desire to lend a hand, then I came back.”

Baker and Frist

More than two decades earlier, Gold worked in the Senate in similar roles. Gold, who got his first real break working on Capitol Hill for former Sen. Mark Hatfield (R-Ore.), served as a counsel to another Tennessean: former Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker (R).

In the oral history, Gold describes both Majority Leaders as “stylistically different people” with Frist more likely to plot legislative strategy “by committee,” while Baker “would rely on individuals in their particular roles.”

As for personal interaction, Baker used a “very gentle sense of humor … to leaven conversations,” while Frist is “extremely businesslike” when addressing legislative issues.

“He is very, very focused and knows where he wants to go,” Gold said of Frist. It was this stylistic difference, Gold said, that made him more comfortable with his fellow leadership staffers than the current Majority Leader during his first few months back in the Senate.

“I found initially that I had a very easy relationship within the staff, but a formal relationship with him,” Gold said. “But as we have gotten to know each other better, that has very much eased. It has always been a good professional relationship, and I also consider it a good personal relationship.”

Gold also worked for Baker at a time when technology required lawmakers to connect with aides face-to-face, rather than with newfangled electronic equipment. With the introduction of electronic messaging, Frist is able to interact with his staff through a combination of personal meetings and e-mails sent by BlackBerry. Gold said while it may seem as though he had more access to Baker than to Frist, in fact the opposite is true.

“When you have face time with him, it tends to be in a group,” Gold said about Frist. “Yet, I have freer access to him than I ever had to Howard Baker because I can always communicate with him by BlackBerry, and do so in an unfiltered way, and get back an unfiltered response, quickly.”

Frist, in an interview Friday, said he had sought out Gold’s services because he understood the need to “build the strongest leadership team with people with a track record, people with experience, and people with knowledge.

“Marty Gold is uniquely qualified having been a participant and observer in government for the last 30 years, with direct experience in parliamentary procedure, having written about it, studied it and participated in it,” Frist said. “There is probably no more qualified person in the country in terms of Senate operations at a staff level.”

Byrd’s Influence

It was during Gold’s time with Baker that he first began focusing on Senate procedure — a complex mixture of precedents and rules that govern the chamber and ultimately dictates the fate of legislation.

Gold said he was recruited to become the Republican floor expert after Baker came under pressure from a group of conservative Senators to hire a GOP parliamentarian to assist them on floor matters. The only problem, Gold said, is that he wasn’t an expert.

Gold’s colleagues advised him to “watch Byrd” — then-Senate Majority Leader Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), the long-serving and singular Senator who is known, then and now, as a parliamentary whiz. Gold described his first day on the floor as daunting.

“The way I learned the rules was on-the-job observation and study, because I didn’t have to worry about anything else but that,” Gold said. “I had no distractions, so I concentrated on the rules. A lot of it was trial and error, frankly.”

Gold watched Byrd longingly. “I wish we had his knowledge and skills on our side of the aisle,” Gold said.

While Gold said that, in his view, Byrd has “become more partisan, even though he’s out of the role of the partisan leader,” he also credits the West Virginian with having “a greater impact than any Senator in American history on the rules and operations of the institution.”

K Street

Gold’s first lobbying job was with Gray & Co., whose founder, Bob Gray, had been an adviser to President Dwight Eisenhower and President Ronald Reagan. Gold said he moved downtown for economic reasons and a more family-friendly schedule, and not because of any “disaffection from the Senate” or burnout.

After two years, Gold formed his own company, Gold & Liebengood, with former Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Howard Liebengood (who now serves as chief of staff in Frist’s personal office). In 1989, the two men sold their company to the public-relations firm Burson-Marsteller — one of the first big mergers and acquisitions on K Street, but a decision that Gold said he has since regretted.

“If I had to do it all over again, in retrospect we would never have sold the firm,” Gold said. “If we had not sold the firm, we would have ultimately made just as much money and had more autonomy.”

Gold would later leave his own firm to join Johnson, Smith, Dover, Kitzmiller and Stewart, another K Street firm.

Based on his experience, Gold urged other staffers who are considering leaving Capitol Hill to “leave it when you love it.”

“If you intend to come back and try to work with it — for example, as a lobbyist, or as a scholar — it’s good to care a lot about the institution,” he said.

Gold describes his approach to lobbying as being “less an advocate and more a translator” — that is, informing the client of the politically reality of their request.

“If the client asks for something that is not politically feasible, what good does it do you to go to the Hill and vent those interests to an audience that has no care for what is being said?” he said.

For Gold, his willingness to help teach new generations parliamentary procedure has made it much easier for him to get an audience with lawmakers and top staffers.

Last year, while he was working for Frist, Gold conducted 80 seminars to help teach lawmakers and staffers about parliamentary procedure — a continuation of programs he began holding in the early 1980s. This allowed Gold to avoid having to dole out political dollars simply to be recognized by lawmakers or staffers.

“The simple fact is, I was never deeply engaged in the fundraising side of this business,” Gold said. “My way of developing relationships with Members was through educational programs and seminars over many, many years, as opposed to the fundraising point of entry.”

He continued, “A lot of people have no point of entry. I was fortunate. It was in a way a method of compensating for the absence of having clients with big [political action committees] or writing more checks than I could manage.”

Even though Gold is once again parked on K Street, he said he has not ruled out once again serving in the government, after a suitable interval. “In order to do that I’ve got to take a period of time and establish the proper economic foundation,” he said.