Shadowproof

Correction on the Clients of Wolffe’s Firm:

Over the weekend I wrote a piece about Richard Wolffe’s firm Public Strategies, Inc. The overall contention of that piece, that Wolffe commented on health care despite his firm having a substantial stake in the outcome of the health care debate, was correct. I based my information on data obtained from the Center for Responsive Politics, which is pretty much a flawless source. Except in this case.

The Center for Responsive Politics lists "Public Strategies Inc" as one lobbying firm. It lists Bristol-Myers-Squbb, Allostatix, the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, and Cerner Corp as clients of "Public Strategies, Inc." When you check the data against the House lobbyist disclosure database, it becomes very clear that there are two entities that go by the name of Public Strategies, Inc. One is listed as "Public Strategies, Inc" in the House database; this entity is Wolffe’s employer. The other is listed as "Public Strategies Washington, Inc" in the House database. This entity is not Wolffe’s employer and is the lobbyist for Cerner Corp, Bristol-Myers-Squibb and InBev.

Allostatix, a company that claims it can reduce health care costs by catching "high cost employees" before a problem develops, paid Wolffe’s firm $50,000 in the 2nd Quarter of 2009 to represent their interests on health care legislation. The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy paid Wolffe’s firm $10,000 to represent its views on abortion during the health care reform debate. Health Integrated, a firm that works with insurance companies to maximize their profits, paid Wolffe’s firm $40,000 in 2008 to represent their interests on legislative and regulatory issues. Christus Health, a Texas-based health chain, paid Wolffe’s firm $40,000 in 2005 to represent their interests on Medicare Part D legislation.

Wolffe’s firm is also heavily involved in lobbying for the financial sector. In 2008, First Advantage Corporation retained the services of Public Strategies, Inc. A long-term client, which paid Public Strategies $50,000 in 2009 alone, is the Financial Services Forum. The Forum’s website describes exactly what kind of an operation this "nonpartisan" group is:

"The Financial Services Forum is a non-partisan financial and economic policy organization comprised of the CEOs of 17 of the largest and most diversified financial services institutions doing business in the United States.

The purpose of the Forum is to pursue policies that encourage savings and investment, promote an open and competitive global marketplace, and ensure the opportunity of people everywhere to participate fully and productively in the 21st-century global economy.

The Forum’s three primary missions are to:
Educate the public about the importance of robust capital markets;
Encourage a competitive global marketplace; and
Shape the national and international regulatory dialogue."

Despite the fact that one of his firm’s largest clients is an organization for the CEOs of America’s largest banks, Wolffe did not disclose his new employer’s clients while writing commentary on the banking industry for The Daily Beast.

While I regret the error in my original post, the fundamental point of that post stands: Wolffe crossed a line and was publicly commenting on issues as an "objective observer" while he was also being paid by a firm which was contracted to get a favorable message out for one side of various issues. It is a clear violation of the Church/State wall of journalism. In my judgment, Wolffe can either be a journalist or an advocate for special interests; you can’t be both at the same time.

Update: The Center says they are currently fixing their database, so the link I provided will not show exactly what was there on Saturday in the imminent future. But Public Strategies, Inc. and Public Strategies Washington were merged for 2009 data until today.

That said, this correction is solely my fault, as I should’ve taken the time to do this right. Doing it right means cross checking even a normally reliable database, like The Center’s, against other databases.

I should also take time to thank The Center for what they do; they make it very easy to find lobbying networks and understand how government works. It’s a true public service.

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