With the publication of a squishy-soft Sunday New York Times profile of Ed Gillespie, conservatives should finally stop complaining about the hostile stance of the "liberal" media. Aptly headlined "Scratching Behind Ears of Bush's 'Pit Bull,'" the Times feature revealed little more about the Republican National Committee chairman than readers might have found on the right-wing Newsmax Web site a year ago.
Gillespie is such a good guy, the Times discovered, that even some Democrats like him. Former Gore campaign manager Tony Coelho says that the RNC chairman is good-looking, articulate, self-confident, competent, unafraid and able to stay on message. Even better, "he comes across as somebody you wouldn't mind having a drink with." The Gillespie profile also quotes lavishly from another admiring Democrat -- namely his lobbying partner Jack Quinn, who seems duly grateful for the millions they have earned together over the past few years.
Aside from Quinn's encomium to his friend, however, Gillespie's role as a lobbyist goes almost unmentioned (except to note that he endured a big pay cut when he left Quinn Gillespie for the RNC). Gillespie, who used to represent Enron, has temporarily recused himself from his business. But who are the clients waiting for him to return to the powerhouse firm in which he still retains ownership? For any savvy Washington reporter, even the most cursory examination of Quinn Gillespie's lengthy client roster would offer both amusing ironies and serious policy issues.
Consider the xenophobic rhetoric indulged by Gillespie and his party in their attacks on the "French-looking" John Kerry over the past few months. The Republican chairman has accused him of having "imaginary friends" with "French accents," and emphasized the terrible fact that the Kerry family includes a few French cousins. In the Gillespie lexicon, "French" is a curse and any association with the French is tantamount to treason.
How interesting, then, that one of Quinn Gillespie's top clients is European Aerospace and Defense Services (EADS), the parent company of Airbus Industrie -- which assembles its planes in Toulouse, France, and happens to be largely owned and controlled by the French state. Airbus is the main competitor to Chicago-based Boeing, which has long charged that the European defense giant competes unfairly in international aviation markets with enormous subsidies from both the French and German governments. The affected workers in depressed cities like Seattle might wonder why Gillespie complains about Kerry, when his own company is raking in dollars (or euros) from Airbus.
Partisan hypocrisy aside, Gillespie's remarkable position at the nexus of the White House, Congress and those seeking favors from the U.S. government is, as Public Citizen noted last year, an extraordinary opportunity to exploit conflicts of interest.
Thanks to friendly press coverage, Gillespie has moved back and forth, with unimpeded smoothness, from politics to government to lobbying to politics again. He oversaw the Bush transition team at the Commerce Department, where he installed one of his Quinn Gillespie employees in an influential position -- then turned around to lobby the department for his clients. He collected money from clients like Daimler Chrysler and Enron to pay for ads attacking environmentalists and promoting the Bush energy plan. He collected still more money from companies like Pfizer and Microsoft (another client) to promote the Bush education bill. He pushed the Republican Medicare bill that also happened to be the most important legislative priority of another major Quinn Gillespie client, the Health Insurance Association of America.
It's hard to imagine the Times publishing such an utterly sycophantic profile about any important Democrat. In fact, the Times and the Boston Globe (which is owned by the New York Times Company) seem determined to take down Kerry, much the way Times reporters did their worst in denigrating Al Gore four years ago.
But as party chairman, Gillespie controls vast amounts of funding for members of Congress who will vote on issues affecting Quinn Gillespie clients. As a key figure in the Bush-Cheney campaign, he has access to inside information about every issue, budget item, and political tactic that might affect those clients. The "potential for corruption," as Public Citizen noted, is enormous. Yet the supposedly liberal press, so indignant over Kerry's tenuous ties to lobbyists, looks at Gillespie and sees nothing worse than a cute conservative attack puppy they can scratch behind the ears.