GOP Message Veterans Boost NRCC Ties to K Street

Posted March 27, 2009 at 5:20pm

The National Republican Congressional Committee — the entity charged with pushing the House GOP back into the majority — is reaching out to former Capitol Hill staffers and veteran campaign consultants to craft its 2010 political strategy and rally the Republican troops on K Street.

The NRCC Communications Downtown Advisory Group, which will be announced today, will include Carl Forti, Dan Leonard, Ron Bonjean, Karen Hanretty, Kevin Madden, John Feehery, Brian Kennedy and other veteran Republican consultants and former Hill staffers.

The new group will meet on a monthly basis and operate informally, with each of the roughly 20 advisers offering their take on how the committee — and GOP candidates — should craft their messages on Democratic priorities such as “card check,— financial services, energy and other often-divisive legislation.

Forti, a former NRCC communications director who worked on former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s (R) presidential bid and then ran the outside political group Freedom’s Watch last cycle, is now a consultant at the Alexandria, Va.-based Black Rock Group. Qorvis Communications’ Hanretty ran the committee’s press shop last cycle, while Madden, who now works at the Glover Park Group, was Romney’s spokesman during the 2008 presidential primaries.

Feehery, formerly a spokesman for then-Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), is now a lobbyist at the Feehery Group. Bonjean is also a former Hastert spokesman as well as a former spokesman for then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) who worked in the Bush administration and now runs Singer Bonjean Strategies.

Former NRCC spokesman Leonard is now at the National Pharmaceutical Council. Kennedy, now at Dittus Communications, was House Minority Leader John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) spokesman in 2007.

“The NRCC communications team couldn’t have a better and more talented group of individuals contributing to our efforts,— NRCC spokesman Ken Spain said in a statement on Friday. “Every single one of them brings a great level of knowledge and skill that spans across a broad spectrum of issue areas and political campaigns.—

On Friday, Hanretty applauded Spain’s efforts in setting up the downtown sounding board, saying that it may help the committee ward off the traditional political “bubble,— which can stifle ideas and promote the status quo.

She also said that it shouldn’t hurt in helping rebuild the committee’s badly eroded fundraising base.

As of Feb. 28, the NRCC had $1.9 million in cash and $6.4 million in debt, according to Federal Election Commission records. In contrast, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had $2.9 million in cash and carried massive debts totaling $15.1 million.

“It helps create some buzz, which is good for a Republican committee right now,— Hanretty said. “It’s important for the downtown community to know that a political committee like the NRCC has its ear to the ground.—

“That sends a really good message to the donor community that the political committee isn’t insular,— she added.

In the 2008 cycle, many Republican insiders on K Street privately griped about then-NRCC Chairman Tom Cole’s (Okla.) lack of outreach to the downtown community and about that poor relationship contributing to the committee’s weak fundraising. The new group could be viewed as part of NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions’ (Texas) attempt to help change that.

Also advising the committee are Dutko Worldwide’s Gary Andres and Greg Crist, Scott Howell & Co.’s Todd Harris, Christopher Cox of Navigators Global and Stuart Roy of Prism Public Affairs, according to a list provided by the NRCC.

Leslie Sanchez of the Impacto Group is expected to advise Spain and the committee on how House Republicans can expand their outreach within the Hispanic community, while Jessica Boulanger — also an NRCC spokeswoman last cycle — will focus on how Republicans can better communicate on the Internet.

Harris and Cox will focus on how the committee’s candidates should address card check legislation, a Democratic priority that stands to grow union membership, while Kennedy will focus on energy issues.

Matt Rhoades of the DCI Group also will work with the new advisory board, as will Drew Maloney of Ogilvy Government Relations and FD Dittus Communications’ Amos Snead.

“It’s a resource for Ken,— Forti said. “Having been at the NRCC, it’s important to get the advice of those outside of the organization and from those who have sat in the chair before … to bounce around ideas and for people to make suggestions.—

“There’s a lot of good ideas out there and we just have to tap into them,— he added.