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“Connections make the lobbyist”
Ed Gillespie turned his phone list into big bucks - and an Enron affiliation
WASHINGTON - Many Republicans helped their party take control of Congress in the 1994 election. Many helped put George W. Bush in the White House.
Ed Gillespie can make both claims.
The former House Republican aide and Bush campaign adviser has turned that experience into one of the most lucrative lobbying firms in Washington. He has also become the subject of congressional scrutiny over his most prominent former client, Enron.
Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., as part of his wide-ranging inquiry into Enron, wants to subpoena documents on its hiring of Mr. Gillespie, citing his involvement with the Bush inauguration and development of the Bush energy plan.
"He's at the intersection of a lot of interesting streets," said Phil Schiliro, a Waxman spokesman.
Those streets stretch all the way to North Carolina, where Democrats who criticized Senate candidate Elizabeth Dole over an Enron-hosted fund-raiser last year also like to point out that Mr. Gillespie is one of her top strategists.
Mr. Gillespie said he knows nothing about the questionable dealings that have subjected Enron to a raft of investigations. He said the Houston energy giant hired his firm, Quinn Gillespie & Associates, to promote issues he has championed his entire career, including lower taxes, deregulation and opposition to price controls. Enron paid the firm about $ 700,000, according to records.
"When my firm went to work for Enron as a client, they were on the cover of magazine after magazine as one of the best-run companies in the country," Mr. Gillespie said. "We had no way of knowing what the financial transactions were until the news media started to report it."
Friends of Mr. Gillespie said he is being singled out so that political critics can put "Bush" and "Enron" in the same sentence.
"He's very bright, creative, very sure-footed in dealing with the press," said Haley Barbour, the former Republican Party chairman who is considered a mentor to Mr. Gillespie.
In many ways, Mr. Gillespie symbolizes what campaign finance reform supporters call the "revolving door," public officials who join the private sector and thrive on government contacts left behind.
"He's one of the big players," said Sheila Krumholz, research director with the Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics. "He's always at the head of the table. He's always at the seminars. He has great Republican access."
Mr. Waxman and other congressional critics want to examine how that access may have benefitted Enron. In urging a Republican-run House committee to subpoena a variety of Enron documents, Mr. Waxman wrote: "Mr. Gillespie reportedly played a leading role in gaining access to the Bush Administration on matters of energy and tax policy."
Critics and supporters agreed there is little mystery as to why companies like Enron - and Microsoft and Daimler Chrysler and a consortium of steel giants
- would want to hire Mr. Gillespie.
Few, if any, lobbyists have such strong connections with both House Republicans and White House Republicans.
Supporters also called Mr. Gillespie an extremely effective communicator, both loyal and discrete. White House aide Jim Wilkinson, who worked with Mr. Gillespie in the office of House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Flower Mound, called his colleague "the Michael Jordan of communications."
"He's honest, trustworthy and someone you enjoy being around," Mr. Wilkinson said.
Born Aug. 1, 1961, the son of a New Jersey grocer and bar owner, Mr. Gillespie made his way to Washington as a student at Catholic University. He worked his way through school dispensing milk at a dining hall, parking cars in a lot and taking orders as a cook.
Despite his lifelong support of Philadelphia Eagles football, Mr. Gillespie persuaded Cowboy fan Dick Armey to hire him as press secretary in 1985. He later helped write the Contract With America, a cornerstone of the 1994 elections that gave Republicans control of Congress.
After serving as communications director for the House Republican Conference, Mr. Gillespie took a similar position in 1996 with the Republican National Committee, then under the leadership of Mr. Barbour. As Bob Dole's challenge to President Clinton went down the tubes, Mr. Gillespie won credit for helping Republicans hold tenuous majorities in the House and Senate.
In 1997, Mr. Gillespie joined the private sector, signing with Mr. Barbour's highly ranked firm, the all-Republican Barbour, Griffith & Rogers. Mr. Gillespie also set up a firm, Policy Impact Communications.
During Mr. Bush's drive for the presidency, his Austin-based campaign recruited consultants who had experience within the Washington Beltway, including Mr. Gillespie.
Bush campaign praised Mr. Gillespie's contributions, which included an overtime stint in Florida during the recount battle, planning of the Bush inaugural and setting up communications for Commerce Secretary Donald Evans.
By doing election work, Mr. Gillespie took time out from the private lobby firm he founded in January 2000, Quinn Gillespie & Associates. Like many Washington firms, it tries to work both sides of the political street. The first name is that of Jack Quinn, former White House counsel to President Clinton and once chief of staff to Vice President Gore.
Fortune magazine ranked Quinn Gillespie, after just a year, as the 11th most powerful firm in town, with revenue projections of $ 11 million for 2001.
The firm's client list includes prominent individual companies - Coca-Cola, DirecTV, Verizon - as well as specially created entities. When Bethlehem Steel Corp., LTV and others formed "Stand Up For Steel," they hired Quinn Gillespie to lobby the White House - and its free trade ethos - for tariffs on steel imports.
Mr. Gillespie has also represented groups seeking to advance parts of the Bush agenda. One dubbed itself Americans for Better Education.
Another was called the 21st Century Energy Project, consisting of a variety of conservative groups like the American Conservative Union, Citizens For A
Sound Economy, and Americans For Tax Reform. They financed TV commercials to promote the Bush White House energy plan that stressed increased oil and gas drilling.
That plan also had support from companies like Enron, which retained the Gillespie firm in early 2001, while Mr. Gillespie was on leave and working on the Bush transition. Officials said the two came together after House Majority Whip Tom DeLay had threatened to cut off Enron because it hired a Democratic lobbyist.
On behalf of Enron, Mr. Gillespie lobbied the White House on its energy plan, the records of which are the subject of a threatened lawsuit by the General Accounting Office. Officials also said Mr. Gillespie spoke to House Republicans about their economic stimulus bill, which included an elimination of the Alternative Minimum Tax that would have benefited Enron and other corporations.
But they said Mr. Gillespie did not ask that the cut be made retroactive, as the House bill did, a provision that would have awarded Enron a refund estimated at $ 254 million. The bill died.
Soon after, Mr. Gillespie and Enron parted company as the company came under investigation for, among other things, misusing limited partnerships.
Mr. Gillespie did not comment in detail on his work for Enron, but added: "I think that it's easy to look at things through a prism of what we know now.
"The fact is, the people at Enron never ran their partnership ideas by me."