Gillespie: A Man in Demand
Miers Role Allows Him to Lobby Again
Ed Gillespie, the White House’s go-to man in a pinch, also helms one of the fastest-growing lobbying shops in Washington, D.C. And lately, it seems, there hasn’t been enough of him to go around.
After a breakneck summer doubling at Quinn Gillespie & Associates while helping squire now-Chief Justice John Roberts through the nomination process, Gillespie thought he’d be able to get back to his business. But then the White House called again and asked him to stay on board for the now- contentious campaign to fill a second Supreme Court vacancy with White House counsel Harriet Miers.
This time, Gillespie’s role is less time-consuming but arguably higher profile. He will be able to return to work nearly full time at QGA, the shop he launched with Jack Quinn, then-President Bill Clinton’s White House counsel in 2000.
“I have a commitment to the people there, to the clients, and to the company that bought the firm,” said Gillespie, who last week moved back into QGA from a West Wing office he had occupied since mid-summer. And besides, he added, “It’s a much more normal life that allows me to see my children full time, and it’s what I intend to do.”
Instead of overseeing day-to-day management of the nomination, as he did for Roberts, Gillespie will be serving as Miers’ “sherpa,” physically accompanying her as she makes visits to Members of Congress.
Filling that role, which was handled during the Roberts nomination by former Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.), enables Gillespie to return his focus to client work and business development at QGA. Stepping in for him to lead White House lobbying on behalf of Miers will be former Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.), White House spokesman James Dyke and Steve Schmidt, a spokesman for Vice President Cheney, Gillespie said.
The shift allows Gillespie to lift a self-imposed ban on lobbying Members of Congress that had been in effect for the duration of the Roberts confirmation process.
That news comes as something of a relief to the firm’s clients. “He does have stature in this town of being one of the best, if not the best, in terms of lobbyists,” said Joe Stanton, a college friend of Gillespie’s and top lobbyist for the National Association of Home Builders who hired the firm this summer.
Stanton and several other QGA clients were quick to note the firm has developed a deep bench of talent that allows work to continue even when one of the name partners is away on special assignment.
Tim McKone, head of government relations for telecommunications giant SBC, said, “Not only do we have Ed, but we utilize the resources of the entire firm. From our perspective, we have been and continue to be well-served.”
The twin Supreme Court nominations are only the latest outside venture Gillespie has undertaken since founding the firm.
Gillespie returned to the firm full time in January after a year-and-a-half leave to serve as chairman of the Republican National Committee through the 2004 elections. But his unfettered return to lobbying did not last long.
In April, the National Republican Senatorial Committee recruited him to consult on the prospect of the “nuclear” option, a procedural maneuver Senate Republicans were considering to end judicial filibusters.
Gillespie voluntarily decided to stop lobbying any members of the Senate GOP leadership while he advised them on a temporary basis. In what has become somewhat of a regular practice since the spring, he personally called the firm’s nearly 50 lobbying clients to inform them of the project and his self-imposed lobbying ban.
“They appreciate the fact that I’m committed not only to them, but to this party and this president,” Gillespie said.
The arrangement ended in May, when a group of Senators reached a last-minute compromise to avert a showdown on the issue. Once again, however, Gillespie’s wholesale return to his firm was short-lived.
In July, he accepted a request from the Bush administration to lead its lobbying effort to win Senate confirmation for Roberts. The job required Gillespie to relocate to the White House, and while he wasn’t paid for the work, he was designated a special government employee, a status that prevented him from lobbying the White House.
Gillespie expanded the ban, curtailing his lobbying altogether. “I just think it’s better to voluntarily separate what you’re doing to help the people in your party from your lobbying activities,” he said. “I just think it makes things easier, and otherwise, it could raise questions later about appearances.”
His work on the Roberts nomination included running daily strategy sessions, coordinating talking points and directing public relations efforts. But he still found time to return to the firm, sometimes as often as three times a week.
“He did have some responsibilities here, like maintaining client relationships and speaking engagements, that didn’t involve solving lobbying problems,” said Rick Powell, the firm’s managing partner.
Indeed, Gillespie said while he works on all the firm’s contracts, he is not involved with the day-to-day management of any of them.
Added Quinn: “A lot of what Ed and I do is manage the firm. The vast bulk of the lobbying that gets done out of here is done by others. He and I spend time thinking about interesting but challenging communications issues in front of the firm, we spend a lot of time running the place and making decisions about where we’re growing and how we’re growing.”
Nevertheless, with Roberts safely through a quieter-than-expected confirmation process, Gillespie said he was eager to return to the business. When the White House invited him to reprise his role for Miers, he said, “they were aware I couldn’t do this full time,” and agreed to his scaled-back involvement.
Already, the extension of Gillespie’s term, at a time when the White House is bracing for the possible indictments of top officials by a special prosecutor, has fueled rumors he could soon be asked to take a permanent post there.
Gillespie called the rumors untrue — and frustrating.
“It is not frankly very helpful, and it does cause concern among the clients,” he said. “But the fact is I’m returning to the firm. I love QGA and I love our clients and I love the work. It’s a Washington parlor game, I have no control over it, it frustrates me, but I’ve been in this town long enough to know it is what it is. One way I deal with it is by assuring people that I’m at Quinn Gillespie to stay.”
That should come as good news to the firm, which saw its revenue stumble by 7 percent in 2004, a period when Gillespie was on leave at the RNC. With his return, the firm’s bottom line has rebounded handsomely, posting a 17 percent gain for the first half of 2005 over the same period last year.
The growth was driven in part by a host of new clients, including the American Petroleum Institute, Bristol-Myers Squibb, the National Hockey League, Qualcomm and Burlington Northern Railroad.
But Gillespie said no one should expect him to completely quit his outside work for the party or the White House. He already has agreed to head up a national fundraising campaign for Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele’s (R) Senate bid. And at the suggestion of the White House, he is working to assemble a coalition of business groups to help promote the Bush administration’s immigration reform package.
As Gillespie said, when something needs to get done, “Give it to the busy guy.”