Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

How a Big Lobbyist Hedges Its Political Bets Bgr Group Morphed into Gop Force with Bridge to Democrats

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

How a Big Lobbyist Hedges Its Political Bets Bgr Group Morphed into Gop Force with Bridge to Democrats

Article excerpt

The day after this month's Republican presidential debate, a top lobbyist opined in The Washington Post that Donald Trump was "wearing thin" and "a blackmailer" who is "all about himself."

That lobbyist, Ed Rogers, and his colleagues have reason to hope that's true. Their firm, BGR Group, has ties to current or former Republican governors who make up eight of the other 16 candidates. Traditionally a GOP firm, BRG even has built a bridge to Democratic front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton.

BGR, founded by former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, was once the epitome of the partisan lobbying shop, in which political and governmental veterans worked their party pals in officialdom to keep abreast of - and influence - decisions, all on behalf of clients.

In recent years it has morphed into a multi-pronged political powerhouse that raises money for numerous candidates in the same race, embeds its members in their super-PACs, uses the resulting access for clients across the globe and even has a voice in the media.

This year, BGR's employees or close associates have been involved with the presidential campaigns of three former governors - Jeb Bush of Florida, Rick Perry of Texas and Scott Walker of Wisconsin - and they have ties to Govs. Chris Christie of New Jersey and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana. The firm also has a representative in Ms. Clinton's inner fundraising circle.

"Political activity by lobbyists in D.C. [or Harrisburg] is nothing new," BGR's government affairs principal, Loren Monroe, wrote in a brief email response to seven questions. He declined an interview request.

"That firm in and of itself is unusual because of those high level connections, with a former governor heading up the firm," said Timothy LaPira, an assistant professor at James Madison University, who has written extensively about lobbying.

He said the fundraisers held in the firm's office and the deployment of lobbyists to super-PACs are not "signaling that this firm is endorsing any given candidate at this point. They're simply getting in under the door with numerous of the candidates. . They're more or less hedging their bets."

Barbour knows the ropes

It's doubtful that anyone knows how governors interact with lobbyists better than Mr. Barbour.

He went from political operative to White House aide to lobbyist to chair of the Republican National Committee to two-term governor and, briefly, in 2011, to presidential contender. He rejoined BGR - for Barbour, (Lanny) Griffith and Rogers - in 2012, a year after he finished a term at the helm of the Republican Governors Association, or RGA.

Mr. Barbour, like any good lobbyist, "uses every connection he has," said Heath Brown, an assistant professor of public policy at the City University of New York and author of the 2012 book "Lobbying the New President."

"Haley Barbour is also very smart about who has won presidential campaigns in the past, and we know governors have been successful in lots of recent presidential campaigns."

The firm's chits to governors go far beyond the $87,800 it has donated to the RGA since 2011. Even as it sells its access to officials, it lends to candidates its access to the people who donate to campaigns.

BGR's government affairs president, Bob Wood, "is a 'raiser,' " an RGA executive wrote in a 2009 memo to Bob McDonnell, who was then running for governor of Virginia, "and can be very helpful in setting up meetings with his clients." Mr. McDonnell won the race, and went on to chair the RGA starting in 2011.

McDonnell's attorney, Noel J. Francisco, declined to make the former governor available to talk about BGR and the RGA. McDonnell is appealing a conviction and two-year prison sentence on federal corruption charges related to favors done for, and gifts received from, former Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams.

Contributions, questions

In July 2010, Mr. …

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