Democrats Go For The Gold

09/26/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Thomas B. Edsall Joseph Pulitzer II and Edith Pulitzer Moore Professor, Columbia School of Journalism

A prominent Washington public relations firm founded by veterans of the Clinton administration is seeking to represent a coalition of energy speculators fighting regulatory legislation currently before the Senate -- legislation sponsored by Democratic leaders and considered crucial to Democratic prospects in the 2008 election -- the Huffington Post has learned.

The Glover Park Group is a finalist in the competition for a lucrative contract representing a consortium of corporations and trade associations that buy and sell oil, gas and other energy commodities. These energy interests are prepared to invest substantial resources to defeat the "Stop Excessive Energy Speculation Act" pending before the Senate.

Among the founders of Glover Park are Michael Feldman, former top aide to vice president Gore; former Clinton spokesman Joe Lockhart; Hillary Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson; Susan Brophy, former White House legislative director; and Chip Smith, deputy manager of Gore's 2000 presidential campaign.

The firm boasts on its web site:

We have been tested in the highest profile public policy and corporate battles of the last decade. A presidential impeachment. International trade disputes. Legislative battles. Mergers and acquisitions. Worldwide product launches. Our people have seen it all. From the White House podium to the corporate board room; from the campaign trail to the halls of Congress, we have learned what it takes to win. We know how to be cool headed under fire, rapid in our responses, and opportunistic when there is an opening. And we never lose sight of your larger objectives.

The Huffington Post was told about the negotiations by Democratic sources angry that Glover Park would seek to take on a client whose interests are antithetical to those of Democrats up for election this year.

Some Democrats in tough races face criticism from the GOP for opposing new drilling, and these candidates need to counter by citing specific enacted proposals designed to bring energy prices down.

Glover Park's negotiations are with the energy speculators' consortium, the Coalition to Protect Competitive Markets, and with a leading member of that consortium, The Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (SIFMA).

Glover Park's Feldman acknowledged on-going discussions with SIFMA, but when he learned that some Democrats were upset with the firm's negotiations, he became very reticent. In a series of subsequent emails, Feldman wrote:

"I was unable to confirm your reporting and I am going to have to decline to comment. As I said yesterday, we have a long standing policy not to comment on our client work or on potential clients. I'm sorry that I couldn't be more helpful."

Reminded that he had recently confirmed the firm's talks with SIFMA, Feldman wrote back, "you must have misunderstood me. I said that I could neither confirm nor deny that we were seeking to represent that client. I simply asked you to clarify what client you were talking about so I could try and track it down for you. I also said, explicitly, that we do not comment on clients or potential clients. If there is any confusion on this point, you are welcome to call me on my cell."

In a brief phone conversation, Feldman said, "I'd love to be more helpful to you, but I can't."
An industry source involved in the negotiations confirmed Glover Park as one of the finalists in the competition to represent the coalition of companies and trade associations involved in buying and selling energy commodities.

Other members of the Coalition include the Commodity Markets Council, the Futures Industry Association, the International Swaps and Derivatives Association, the New York Mercantile Exchange, the Financial Services Roundtable, Futures Industry Association, the Managed Funds Association and the New York Mercantile Exchange.

In a statement, the Coalition voiced concern that:

The debate in Congress over how to alleviate this problem could take a dangerous turn that will result in higher energy prices and undermine the competitiveness of the markets in America. There is no legitimate evidence available today to support the claims that investors have created a speculative oil bubble. The high prices we are being forced to shoulder are being driven by market fundamentals and a weak dollar. Global demand for oil is outstripping supplies...There are solutions to high oil and gas prices. Preventing investment in our commodity markets isn't one of them.

The lead sponsor of the bill, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) countered that "right now, Wall Street traders are raising gas prices with nothing more than the click of a mouse. Without regard for anything but their own profits, traders are bidding up prices by buying huge quantities of oil just to sell them at an even higher price.... This bill will address the rising cost of gasoline in the short-term, prevent Wall Street traders from gaming the oil markets and ensure that American consumers are paying a fair price at the pump."

On July 25, supporters of the bill were able to muster 50 votes in support of an effort to end a Republican filibuster, 10 short of the 60 votes required. Democrats voted 48-1 for closure, while Republicans opposed the motion 42-2.

The Glover Park solicitation is reminiscent of the controversies that plagued Mark Penn, Hillary Clinton's top strategists, through much of the Democratic presidential primaries this year. Penn's public relations-lobbying firm, Burson-Marsteller, had many clients pressing legislation opposed by a majority of Democrats, clients including the government of Colombia which was pushing for approval of a trade agreement opposed by Clinton.

Matt Miller, communications director for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, described the speculation bill as "very important" for Democrats, especially challengers who need to be able to tell voters that their party is seriously addressing the energy issue.

In the 2006 election, the massive lobbying by former Republican officials and campaign operatives was one of the factors contributing to the image of the GOP as corrupt. The result was the loss of Republican control of the House and Senate. One of the unintended consequences of the Democratic take-over of both bodies is that special interests now turn to Democratic lobbyists and PR firms in order to better make their case to the party in power.