Bankrupt Northwest Signs Up GOP Lobbying Firm

Posted October 7, 2005 at 4:39pm

Northwest Airlines, which landed in Chapter 11 reorganization in mid-September, recently took the small indulgence of hiring a new lobbying firm. Seeking more help on the GOP side, the airline signed up the all-Republican firm Fierce Isakowitz & Blalock to help out on a host of issues.

At the top of that list, however, is pension legislation, which could address an issue that lies at the heart of most major airlines’ financial troubles. [IMGCAP(1)]

“We’re doing general lobbying for them,” said Fierce Isakowitz’s Kirsten Chadwick, a former special assistant to President Bush for legislative affairs, who is taking the lead on the account. “Obviously the pension bill is the first item of business that we’ll be working on.”

Although the Minneapolis-based company has filed for bankruptcy protection, Northwest officials have said they want the airline to make good on its pension obligation and not relinquish it to the federal Pension Benefits Guarantee Corp.

Northwest, Chadwick said, supports a Senate measure that would allow companies to wait 14 years before new PBGC rules would apply, in order to help it pay into its pension. The various carriers have pensions that are structured in different ways, and not all the airlines support the 14-year grace period.

Along with Chadwick, the firm’s Kirk Blalock, Mike Chappell, Donald Fierce, Mark Isakowitz and others are doing work for Northwest.

This isn’t the first client that Fierce Isakowitz has seen through a major restructuring. Lobbying records show the firm has long been retained by MCI, the successor to the humbled telecom giant WorldCom. MCI paid Fierce Isakowitz $200,000 for the first half of 2005.

Rebuilding Lobby. A lobbying effort is under way to put a deadline on a measure the administration ordered after Hurricane Katrina to suspend indefinitely federal laws that govern the contracting process during reconstruction of the Gulf Coast.

At least 37 Republican Members have signed on to a letter urging President Bush to set a termination date of Nov. 8, to end his suspension of the Davis-Bacon Act, a 1930s law that sets wages for union and nonunion workers who are carrying out federal contracts. Although unions and other lobbying groups are getting involved, two Republican House Members, Steven LaTourette (Ohio) and Frank LoBiondo (N.J.), have taken the leading role.

Donald Kaniewski, legislative and political director for the Laborers International Union of North America, said the Members “did it quickly, under very short notice.”

So far, none of the groups has received any feedback on the letter.

Kaniewski said his group would prefer the immediate repeal of the president’s order, but 60 days, which would be Nov. 8, “is not unreasonable.”

Not only does the law protect worker wages, Kaniewski said, but it also is an important tool for the government to prevent fraud. In addition to setting a prevailing wage, Davis-Bacon also requires companies to keep a strict accounting of employees and their hours.

“Our No. 1 concern is you have contractors coming in and getting no-bid, open ended contracts,” said Joe Brady, communications director for the International Union of Operating Engineers. “They’re going to make very handsome money and boost their profit margins more by paying workers less. Our hope is that eventually the demand for skilled workers is going to” increase wages.

Brady said his union has worked closely in the past with both LoBiondo and LaTourette. “There are a number of Republicans on the Hill we work with to try to push our agenda,” he said.

Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.), a member of the Republican Working Group on Labor who also signed the letter, said through a spokeswoman, “We need to rebuild the Gulf Coast in a fiscally responsible way, but that does not mean at the expense of workers’ fair wages.”

In Overdrive. Even before officially launching and christening his new group, Jim Doyle had already ramped up his advocacy efforts, which focus on vetting automakers’ domestic and international records. Last week Doyle gave his 501(c)(4) a name: the Level Field Institute.

The group won’t spend much time on lobbying, but Doyle said it will get word out to government officials and consumers about which car companies do business in “terrorist nations” and which ones invest the most in U.S. communities.

Doyle said funding for his group so far comes from retirees of the big U.S. automakers and American suppliers for those companies. He declined to release a list of contributors, but said he also was reaching out to Ford Motor Co. and other U.S.-based car companies.

Doyle was raised in Dearborn, Mich., by parents who worked for carmakers. Before joining the Clinton administration’s Commerce Department, Doyle himself worked for a subsidiary of Ford.

“We’re trying to really inform consumers and officials about how every company does against the standards we set,” he said. “As our global economy gets more complicated, we need a scorecard.”

Going Global. Adam Falkoff, who specializes in international lobbying and was most recently with the Gilman Group, has joined Quinn Gillespie & Associates as a partner.

Earlier this year, 5-year-old Quinn Gillespie signed on its first foreign government client, the African nation of Cote d’Ivoire. But with the addition of Falkoff and former ambassador Stuart Holliday, who also recently joined the firm after serving as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations for special political affairs, the firm is making a greater push in the area, Falkoff said.

“The practice is poised to expand rapidly,” he said. In addition to representing foreign government clients, Falkoff and the practice also will focus on free-trade agreements, international clients looking to do business in the United States and American companies with business abroad.

“It is an honor to work with the highly skilled and collaborative team that Jack and Ed have assembled,” Falkoff said, referring to firm founders Jack Quinn and Ed Gillespie. “I also could not pass up the opportunity to work with Ambassador Holliday.”

Some of QGA’s current multinational clients include Coca-Cola, Sony, Microsoft, HP, Barclay’s, CEMEX, DaimlerChrysler and EADS. Falkoff, who is working on client development, said he will likely bring on new clients soon.