Firm About Town

Wiley Rein & Fielding Alums Are All Over

Posted May 13, 2005 at 5:19pm

One of the most notable things about the law and lobbying firm Wiley Rein and Fielding is who’s not there anymore. The firm, whose three name partners are known for their Republican connections, has sent batches of lawyers and policy wonks into the Bush administration and to other top GOP posts around town.

Kevin Martin, the newly installed chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, and his wife, Catherine Martin, deputy director of communications for policy and planning in the White House, are both Wiley alums. So is Michael Toner, vice chairman of the Federal Election Commission.

The list also includes Alex Azar, a recent Bush nominee for deputy secretary of Health and Human Services, and Maria Cino, who has been nominated as deputy secretary of the Transportation Department.

But don’t feel too sorry for the firm, which has one of the largest communications practices in the country. Having all those connections to the government subtly aids the firm’s clients with Capitol Hill and federal agencies, especially in coming months when lawmakers are planning to take up a rewrite of the 1996 Telecommunications Act.

Bruce Mehlman, a former assistant for technology policy at the Commerce Department during President Bush’s first term, got his start at Wiley. And that’s where he met his business partner Alex Vogel, who’s still a top political adviser to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), and his wife, Amy Mehlman, who runs her own lobbying firm, Mehlman Capitol Strategies, that recently moved into the Wiley Rein offices.

“Everybody I need to know I met at my law firm,” said Mehlman, who founded the firm Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti after leaving government.

Mehlman added that Wiley Rein is bipartisan — not “right-wing conspiracy central. But the pedigree of the name partners has consistently attracted more Republican and conservative law students and been looked at to seed Republican administrations, particularly this one.”

Even though the firm is hot with this Bush White House, Wiley Rein has been around for 22 years.

After founder Dick Wiley left the Federal Communications Commission, he initially joined Chicago-based Kirkland and Ellis. But client conflicts, Wiley said, restrained the practice he wanted to build, so he went out on his own and took with him three dozen colleagues, including Bert Rein, a former State Department official.

The third name partner is Fred Fielding, one of several Washingtonians rumored to be Watergate’s Deep Throat figure (an assertion he has denied). Fielding joined the firm in 1986 after leaving the Reagan White House. He was brought in to start the firm’s legislative and public policy practice, which he still leads.

“We really do encourage people to go into government if they’re interested. Of course we suffered a brain drain too,” Fielding said, adding that the revolving door from the firm to government also spun during the Clinton administration.

He noted that Gregg Elias is now back at the firm after serving in the Clinton administration and on Capitol Hill for then-Sen. Fritz Hollings (D-S.C.). “We’re proud of them,” Fielding said. “It’s nice to have a little alumni association.”

The FEC’s Toner, who joined Wiley Rein as a summer associate in 1991, said that time was “the political wilderness.”

“Wiley Rein and Fielding was very successful at creating an environment for Republican lawyers,” Toner said. “I do think it’s a tribute to Wiley Rein and Fielding to be a place for conservative young lawyers to be comfortable and to work hard.”

Toner’s mentor at Wiley Rein was Jan Baran, who joined the firm more than 20 years ago and has run the election law and ethics practice. Baran has served as general counsel to the Republican National Committee and counts House Members and Senators — all Republicans — as clients. The practice is usually busy, but it is especially so lately with all the ethics scandals over Congressional travel. In addition, Baran represents such corporate clients as Microsoft Corp. and General Electric.

“It’s helpful to have alumni anywhere whether they’re in government or business,” Baran said. But, he added, “People in the administration or the FEC are not a referral service.”

The lobbying practice includes Republicans and Democrats such as former Rep. Jim Slattery (D-Kan.), who served on the House Commerce Committee. Slattery said Democrats aren’t lonely at Wiley Rein.

“There’s no secret that the three name partners are Republicans and all held prominent positions in Republican administrations,” he said. “But there are also Democrats that work in this firm, and we have a very active government affairs practice that is capable of working both sides of the political aisle.”

Wiley, who served as a co-chairman of Lawyers for Bush-Cheney in 2000 and 2004, said the firm is split evenly between Democrats and Republicans. But, he added, “No doubt about it, I’m a Republican without prefix or apology.”

When it comes to lobbying work, Wiley said, his firm is neither “the biggest or the strongest.” But it’s adept when it comes to the Congressional commerce and judiciary committees, he said.

Wiley said the firm took on a major effort during the ’96 telecom act and expects that the move to update that law, which is expected to start this summer, will heat up Wiley Rein’s Hill activity.

“We have the largest practice in the country,” Wiley said of communications work. “It’s a blessing and a curse.”

It’s a curse, he said, because the firm’s many clients often stake out positions on different sides of an issue.

Take the conversion to digital television, considered a first step toward updating the telecom laws by House Energy and Commerce Chairman Joe Barton (R-Texas). Wiley Rein has at least two clients on opposite sides: the National Association of Broadcasters and the electronics manufacturer Motorola.

“Conflicts are the bane of our existence, and we have to carefully chart the waters on that,” Wiley said. “Sometimes we just can’t represent people on certain things.”

The NAB’s outgoing president, Eddie Fritts, said he doesn’t worry about conflicts, though. “When we’re dealing with them, we’re dealing with attorneys of the highest integrity,” said Fritts, who has considered Wiley a friend since the 1970s.

“Dick has probably the best, widest network of friends in town. He works very hard at maintaining relationships and his network of friends and colleagues, and I think he has sort of a spirit that wants to help young people advance,” he said.