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Lobbyist appointed leader gop { June 17 2003 }

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June 17, 2003
Bush Names Lobbyist as Leader of G.O.P.

WASHINGTON, June 16 Over the past decade, Ed Gillespie, who was chosen today by President Bush to be chairman of the Republican National Committee through next year's election, has worn many hats, some of them simultaneously.

Mr. Gillespie has been the party's spokesman, the manager of the 2000 Republican convention, a Congressional aide, a campaign strategist and consultant, an official on Mr. Bush's transition team, an outside adviser to the president, a political fund-raiser, a television pundit and, most recently, a lobbyist for big corporations and trade associations.

But for the next 18 months, he said in an interview, he will wear only one hat. "I will be a full-time party chairman," he said. "There will be no lobbying, no discussion of government policy with clients, no meetings about lobbying strategy."

Mr. Gillespie, 41, said he would retain his stake in his lobbying firm, Quinn Gillespie & Associates, where he is a partner of Jack Quinn, who was President Bill Clinton's White House counsel and Vice President Al Gore's chief of staff, but would do no work for the firm and collect no salary as long as he is a party official.

In the long term, Mr. Gillespie's lobbying business will hardly suffer from his run as party chairman, but he says he did not take the job to make more money.

"I love the game," Mr. Gillespie said. "I love to do campaigns more than anything, but you can't really do campaigns full time. There are always off years."

Terry Holt, a friend of Mr. Gillespie's and a former Republican official who is also now a lobbyist, said the decision to retain a financial stake in his partnership should not be held against Mr. Gillespie. "Your whole life shouldn't have to go into a lockbox," Mr. Holt said. "His business is a long-term career. The committee is volunteer work in a way."

But critics said it was ethically unacceptable for a corporate lobbyist, even one on leave, to run a political party. Congress Watch, a division of Public Citizen, an organization founded by Ralph Nader, issued a 17-page report today on Mr. Gillespie's lobbying activity and concluded: "He will closely consult with the White House and Congress on policy matters and electoral strategy. Such inside information would be invaluable to his clients and partners at Quinn Gillespie & Associates."

Mr. Gillespie's appointment will not be official until he is elected at the Republican National Committee's summer meeting in New York next month, but as Mr. Bush's candidate, his election is certain.

Mr. Gillespie is the archetype of an up-by-the-bootstraps Republican. His father was an Irish immigrant who owned a small grocery store and then a bar in Browns Mills, N.J., a town of about 11,000 people east of Philadelphia near Fort Dix.

In college at Catholic University here, Mr. Gillespie held several jobs, including one parking cars in a Senate parking lot. One of his co-workers had an internship with Representative Andy Ireland of Florida, and through him, Mr. Gillespie got one too after his college graduation. Soon afterward, he was put on Mr. Ireland's staff full time and sent to the district office in Bradenton, Fla.

Mr. Ireland was then a Democrat. But he switched parties and ran as a Republican in 1984, the Reagan landslide year. Mr. Gillespie was in charge of the campaign in three counties. He became engrossed by politics and a Republican for life.

After the election, Mr. Gillespie, then 23, wanted to return to Washington. When Mr. Ireland did not offer him a top staff position, he went to work as press secretary for a freshman Republican hardly known outside his district in Texas, Dick Armey. During the next 10 years, Mr. Armey moved steadily up the House leadership ladder, and Mr. Gillespie moved with him.

In 1994, Mr. Gillespie was instrumental in drafting the Contract With America, the Republican manifesto in the election that gave the party control of the House. After the election, Mr. Armey became majority leader, and Mr. Gillespie one of the party's main staff strategists in the House.

Two years later, for the 1996 election, he left the Congressional staff and became the second-ranking official at the Republican National Committee under Haley Barbour, who became his mentor.

After they left the committee, Mr. Barbour and Mr. Gillespie briefly had a lobbying and public relations firm together.

He worked on George W. Bush's presidential campaign in the fall of 2000 and was on the transition team at the Energy Department. Then, in 2002, he was a top adviser to Elizabeth Dole in her race for the Senate from North Carolina.

In the meantime, he and Mr. Quinn built their lobbying practice into one of the capital's most powerful and prosperous. Through the end of 2002, it collected nearly $30 million in lobbying fees.

The firm's clients have included the United States Chamber of Commerce, steel manufacturers, Enron, PricewaterhouseCoopers, DaimlerChrysler, Microsoft and SBC Communications.

Mr. Gillespie said his role as party chairman would not be as strong as Mr. Barbour's was. With a Democrat in the White House, "Haley was a party boss," Mr. Gillespie said.

But in this election, the White House, especially Karl Rove, Mr. Bush's top political strategist, will be calling the signals. "If the president doesn't think I'm doing a good job, I won't be in the job very long," Mr. Gillespie said.

Asked where he fit on the Republican ideological spectrum, with the Christian Coalition on one end and the Chamber of Commerce on the other, Mr. Gillespie responded: "I'm a George W. Bush Republican. I'm for a majority. I'm a professional. I get Republicans elected. That's what I like to do. Republicans who get elected in New York sometimes have somewhat different views from Republicans who are elected in Texas. I'm for electing all of them."

Mr. Gillespie will replace Marc Racicot, the former governor of Montana, who will become chairman of the Bush-Cheney re-election committee, a title with no discernable obligations or responsibilities.

Mr. Racicot can certainly claim to have headed the party in one of its most successful periods in particular, last year, when it won control of the Senate and solidified its standing in the House. But he has been a low-profile national chairman, repeatedly obscured by Mr. Rove and the White House but never seeming particularly upset by that.

The issue of lobbying by party chairmen has long worried those concerned about ethics in politics. Because parties are not government institutions, there are no ethics rules or disclosure requirements.

Ronald H. Brown, who was the Democratic Party chairman in the 1992 election, maintained his lobbying practice and was criticized by Republicans. When Mr. Barbour became the Republican chairman, he said he would sever ties with his law firm, but he never did so.

Mr. Racicot said at the beginning of his term that, with the blessing of the White House, he would maintain his lobbying practice. He changed his mind in the face of criticism and did no lobbying, although he continued to draw a salary from his firm.

Mr. Gillespie's decision to forgo his salary but maintain a stake in his firm is a step in the right direction, said Charles Lewis, the executive director of the Center for Public Integrity, a Washington research group, but it may not be sufficient to erase ethical questions.

"That firm is going to be sitting pretty, and his stake is going to become more valuable," Mr. Lewis said. "The clients of that firm are going to be in hog heaven."

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