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Dewey Square Gets Around
by Diane Farsetta
U.S. presidential races bring Michael J. Whouley new contacts - and new nicknames.
During the 2000 presidential primary, the National Journal reported that Whouley won the nickname "Brain" for his key role in "righting a foundering Gore ship before the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary." Four years later, he was the senior political strategist behind Senator John F. Kerry's Iowa caucus victory, prompting Kerry to dub him "the magical Michael Whouley." The Boston Herald described Whouley as "one of Kerry's closest aides." His relationship with Kerry dates back to 1982, when Whouley worked on Kerry's campaign for Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor. He also helped with Kerry's first U.S. Senate run, two years later.
Other Whouley presidential campaigns include former Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis' 1988 bid, as well as the 1992 and 1996 Clinton/Gore campaigns. An early Clinton supporter, Whouley planted fortune cookies at 1991 Democratic Party meetings that read, "You have Bill Clinton in your future."
It's Not What You Know . . .
But what Whouley does in between presidential election years might inspire name-calling of a different sort. He is the co-founder and principal of the Dewey Square Group (DSG), which the Washington, D.C.-based Roll Call newspaper has called "the powerhouse public affairs firm with close ties to just about every important Democratic politician in the country."
DSG describes itself as a "preeminent grassroots management firm" with "a national network of state operatives experienced in implementing effective strategies to generate local support for public policy issues." Translated, that means that DSG manufactures grassroots and elite (also called "grasstops") support on issues important to its clients.
Current DSG clients, according to Lobbyist.info, include the following:
- AARP (American Association of Retired Persons)
- Allegiance Healthcare Corporation
- American Insurance Association
- Americans for Technology Leadership (ATL)
- Blue Cross Blue Shield
- Coca-Cola Enterprises
- Collegiate Funding Services
- Countrywide Mortgage Corporation
- General Motors Corporation
- Grocery Manufacturers of America (GMA)
- Internet Tax Moratorium Coalition
- Mortgage Insurance Companies of America
- National Education Association of the U.S.
- Purdue Pharma
- Starbucks Coffee Corporation
- United Health Group
- U.S. Chamber of Commerce
DSG's approach to lobbying "attempts to get prominent local citizens and organizations to lobby on behalf of interest groups," explained the Washington Post. "Unlike conventional lobbying, the technique does not require the firms' principals to meet with or even talk to lawmakers. . . . The method is considered effective because lawmakers usually do not even know that they've been lobbied."
To lobby effectively, DSG needs well-connected, influential contacts, which helps explain why Michael Whouley and many of his DSG colleagues are so eager to involve themselves in electoral politics. Six DSG staff people besides Whouley worked as staff or advisors for the Kerry campaign. Jill Alper, head of the firm's political division, was a top Kerry strategist. During the primary, other DSG employees also held high positions in the John Edwards, Dick Gephardt and Joe Lieberman campaigns. When one DSG staffer offered help to Howard Dean campaign manager Joe Trippi, the Boston Globe reported that Trippi answered, "You're with Edwards, you're running Kerry, Alper and Whouley are floating around. My question is, how does that work? Do you guys talk to each other?"
During the 2004 election, DSG's political networking extended even beyond candidates' campaigns, to two of the larger, liberal so-called 527 groups. The closest ties were with America Coming Together (ACT). DSG partner Minyon Moore was on ACT's executive committee, and ACT "hired a phone-bank operation owned by Dewey Square Group," reported the Washington Post. However, Roll Call reported that when Republicans were drawing up a Federal Election Commission complaint against ACT, "they decided to keep Dewey Square out of it because when GOP officials looked into it, they found the firm did 'have the proper firewalls set up.'"
The other DSG-associated 527 was Stronger America Now, whose director was DSG employee Melanie Hudson. "Stronger America Now has run ads in Wisconsin that attack ties between Bush and the Saudi royal family," wrote the Los Angeles Times. "The group, which a Democratic source said was funded by trial lawyers, also has run ads in Dayton, Ohio, that criticize Bush as a tool of big corporations and defend Democratic vice presidential nominee John Edwards."
DSG uses its numerous liberal connections to benefit such clients as Coca-Cola Enterprises, Arthur Andersen and Microsoft. Notwithstanding its Democratic ties, DSG's positions on hot issues such as international trade and healthcare have opposed the interests of important Democratic Party constituencies. In the mid-1990s, it lobbied for the North American Free Trade Agreement and most-favored nation status for China, both of which were opposed by organized labor. In 1997, it helped assuage community concern in Tampa, Florida over the privatization of Tampa General Hospital.
DSG was also one of the PR firms that helped put together Microsoft's bogus "grassroots" letter-writing campaign to defend itself against antitrust prosecution in 2001. (See "Powers Behind the Throne," on page 4.) In its work for Microsoft, DSG collaborated with its Republican-leaning alter ego, Feather Larson Synhorst-DCI. One of Microsoft's front groups, Americans for Technology Leadership, remains a DSG client today.
Don't Just Sit There - Drink Soda!
"Although sodas are frequently identified as a nutritional problem for youngsters, it was Coca-Cola Enterprises that provided the seed money" for the Coalition for a Healthy and Active America (CHAA) "to come to Florida," the Orlando Business Journal reported last November.
Two CHAA organizers traveled throughout the state "to promote the coalition and generate interest in its programs." The delegation was comprised of CHAA Florida coordinator Ana Cruz and DSG's J. Patrick Baskette, who heads the firm's lobbying account for Coca-Cola. Among CHAA's Founding Members are DSG's Minyon Moore and John H. Downs, Jr., Coke's senior vice president of public affairs.
Why Coca-Cola might want to support an organization like CHAA was illustrated by Missouri's Columbia Daily Tribune: "One day after Columbia Public Schools officials endorsed banning sales of soda and other 'unhealthy' foods at middle schools and junior highs, a group sponsored by the soft-drink industry criticized such moves and instead said a focus on exercise is the solution to childhood obesity," read the paper's May 1, 2003 edition. The just-formed Missouri CHAA chapter warned Columbia residents, "Be cautious of food bans and taxes. Dietary restrictions only encourage overindulgence by those most at risk."
Market Crisis Management
In early 2002, the collapse of Enron led to the federal indictment of its accounting firm, Arthur Andersen (now called Accenture), for obstruction of justice. The company responded by hiring DSG to lobby on its behalf with Congress and other high-ranking leaders.
The Washington Post wrote, "The Justice Department is so bombarded with calls from Arthur Andersen LLP employees and their families that it has set up a hot line to take messages. . . . The accounting firm's employees aren't just organizing rallies and printing T-shirts expressing their indignation at the indictment. They are also ginning up a grass-roots protest campaign that includes e-mails, letters and phone calls to anyone in government they think might listen."
The "grassroots" campaign also included a letter addressed from a 10-year-old boy to his father, an Andersen partner, which was duly forwarded to President Bush and Michael Chertoff, the head of the Justice Department's criminal division. "Dear Dad," the letter began, "I hope that you will be able to find a new job if your business is shut down. . . . Please let me know when you know what is going on with Andersen v. the Justice Department."
If the past is anything to judge by, the end of election season will see Michael Whouley and his DSG colleagues fading back into relative obscurity as far as the general public is concerned. But they're likely to stay in touch with their new and renewed Democratic Party acquaintances - especially when DSG's clients stand to benefit.