Dee Dee Myers, Todd Purdum, and the Lucrative Inside Game of “This Town”

As we noted last week in a blog post about immigration commentary by journalist Todd Purdum, he is married to Dee Dee Myers, the Clinton-era White House press secretary who is now a principal at the Glover Park Group. GPG, founded in 2001 by former aides to President Clinton and Vice President Gore, is a lobbying/public relations firm that has become a player in the nation’s capital.

So Purdum and Myers are a power couple playing multiple roles inside the Capital Beltway.

A former consultant for “The West Wing” television series, Myers also writes as a contributing editor for Vanity Fairand produces punditry as a contributor to CNN.

Purdum, a former reporter for the New York Times who recently left his job as national editor at Vanity Fair, is the senior political writer at Politico, the hyperkinetic chronicler of all things political in Washington. But he will maintain his connection with Vanity Fair, also as a contributing editor. And, as we saw last week, he is a pundit on TV and radio.

The couple are also available — for a handsome fee, of course — to speak to your convention or social club. You can find Purdum through All-American Speakers and Myers through the Harry Walker Agency.

Purdum and Myers are established members of that nebulous, unofficial circle of Washington influence, celebrity, and wealth known as “The Club”. New York Times-man Mark Leibovich also describes that group as the Washington “insider swarm”. He notes that it has also been tagged as “The Gang of 500”, “The Beltway Establishment”, “The Echo System”, and — with the title Leibovich gave his tell-almost-all book, This Town.

GPG has had a relatively minor role in the massive spending on immigration lobbying. Driven primarily by business interests who want access to imported labor, immigration lobbying totaled $1.5 billion between 2008 and 2012, according to the watchdog Sunlight Foundation.

But while GPG registered as a lobbyist for the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, its work for Mark Zuckerberg’s campaign for “comprehensive immigration reform” required no such registration.

The immigration work is part of GPG’s “strategic communications” offerings, which represent a much larger share of its revenue than lobbying. The Center for Public Integrity reports that the firm’s lobbying revenues reached $7.2 million in 2013. But Leibovich, describing the firm as a “bipartisan integrated services colossus”, said its annual revenues total $60 million.

More on that later. Meanwhile, here’s Leibovich’s explanation of GPG’s place in the big game of influencing big government.

Over the last dozen years, corporate America (much of it Wall Street) has tripled the amount of money it has spent on lobbying and public affairs consulting in D.C. Relatively new businesses such as the Glover Park Group — founded by three former Clinton and Gore advisers — provide “integrated services” that include lobbying, public relations, and corporate and campaign consulting. “Politics” has become a full-grown and dynamic industry, a self-sustaining weather system all its own.

The Glover Parkers are specialists in what journalist Thomas Edsall calls a trend in the world of lobbying, where “the action has shifted to what is known in the business as strategic advice: how to convince and mobilize voters and opinion elites in support of a client’s agenda.”

Glover Park’s website provides this look at its place in the high-priced terrain: “Old lines between public and private sector, journalist and civilian, outside agitator and inside power broker are blurring. GPG was built to help organizations navigate this shifting landscape.”

Unlike traditional lobby shops that lined up either as solidly Democrat or solidly Republican, GPG is strategically bipartisan, with plenty of Republican talent to complement the Democratic heavy hitters. As Leibovich puts it with the irony that makes his often-depressing story a delicious read, “Washington becomes a determinedly bipartisan team when there is money to be made — sorry, I mean a hopeful exemplar of Americans pulling together in a time of crisis.”

Leibovich says all that partisan bickering we see on cable television “is just winking performance art, and in reality off-air everyone in Washington is joined in a multilateral conga line of potential business partners.”

What Leibovich sees as evidence of the death-by-monetization of our democracy, customers like Mark Zuckerberg see as an entry fee for the public policy game After Joe Lockhart, who worked for a while as Facebook’s vice president of global communications, returned to GPG last year, Zuckerberg hired him to form an advocacy group to push for comprehensive immigration reform.

Financial support came not only from Zuckerberg, but also from other Silicon Valley executives eager for access to the large numbers of foreign tech workers that is part of the “comprehensive” approach.

Before long the new group, called FWD.us, was buying television time in politically strategic markets to tout the legislation and sing the praises of politicians — like Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) — whose support for the comprehensive approach was drawing fire from conservative groups. Zuckerberg wanted to make reform safe for Rubio who, in turn, would help Facebook score visas for lots of foreign computer coders.

While Glover Park’s Lockhart crafts expensive campaigns to advance Zuckerberg’s goals, colleague Dee Dee Myers can serve the same cause with punditry that — while paid for by CNN — no doubt truly reflects her political philosophy. Myers was on air after this year’s State of the Union address. She was all-in with the president’s declaration that if Congress doesn’t act, he won’t hesitate to use executive orders to pursue his goals.

Said Myers: “I think he’s going to send an olive branch to Congress and say ‘Let’s do together the things that we can do. Let’s reform immigration. Let’s move forward on raising the minimum wage. Let’s put people back to work. And the things I can’t do with Congress, I’m going to do with the rest of the American people.'”

It’s no surprise that Myers’s views on immigration appear to align with those of Purdum, an outspoken liberal journalist whose recent immigration punditry we noted last week.

What is interesting is to note their multi-track involvement in the shape-public-policy game. It is nothing unusual in Washington. Indeed, as Leibovich reports in his excellent book, it has become so commonplace that insiders see it as a way of life.

Groups like GPG lobbyists and Politico journalists — who aspire to “drive the conversation” — have done very well in the game. They also have fun together. For example, at the 2008 Democratic convention in Denver that nominated Barack Obama for president, Glover Park joined Politico in sponsoring a bash they billed as “The Best Party in Denver”.

Explained Politico founder John Harris, a former reporter at the Washington Post and now Purdum’s boss: “I’m sure we cover some of their clients, although I certainly couldn’t name them. We all know the same people and thought it could make a nice party.”

According to the New York Times, the bash was such a great place to be that “long past midnight, people were still lined up” to get in. Makes you wonder if it was a conga line.

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