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New GOP Chief to Drop Lobbying

Politics: Marc Racicot says he will continue to be paid by his law firm for other services when he takes the party helm.

January 10, 2002|RONALD BROWNSTEIN | TIMES POLITICAL WRITER

WASHINGTON — Bowing to public and private criticism, Marc Racicot announced Wednesday that he will stop working as a lobbyist when he becomes chairman of the Republican National Committee later this month.

But Racicot, the former governor of Montana, left the door open for further controversy by indicating that he will continue to draw a salary for providing other services to the law firm that hired him last year. Those services could include "strategic advice" to clients, according to Mindy Tucker, an RNC spokeswoman.

When President Bush tapped him last month as his choice to head the RNC, Racicot said he planned to continue his work as a lobbyist in the Washington office of the Houston-based firm of Bracewell & Patterson. Racicot's clients have included the Recording Industry Assn. of America and Enron Corp., the giant energy firm that recently filed for bankruptcy and is now under criminal investigation by the Justice Department.

His initial decision to remain a lobbyist drew criticism from government reformers. They maintained that Racicot's access to the White House and control over GOP campaign funds would give him improper leverage when lobbying for private clients.

RNC and White House officials rejected the criticism, noting that other party leaders, including former Democratic National Committee Chairman Ronald H. Brown, continued to lobby while in their political jobs.

But Racicot told Associated Press on Wednesday that after listening "to discussions both public and private," he had decided to terminate his work as a lobbyist.

"That means I will not be contacting, either directly or indirectly, members of the administration or Congress on behalf of my clients," Racicot said. "Nor will I advocate [clients'] issues with any of those people. Nor will I be arranging conversations between those people. In other words, I'm just not going to be a part of those activities."

Scott Harshbarger, president of the government watchdog group Common Cause, praised Racicot's announcement. "I think it answers the majority of our concerns on the face of it."

But Jennifer Palmieri, a spokeswoman for the Democratic National Committee, said that Racicot's decision to continue accepting paychecks from his law firm left open a conflict-of-interest risk.

"It would seem to be a distinction without a difference," she said of his decision. "I have to wonder what this lobbying firm is paying him for. . . . If he is concerned about the appearance [of impropriety], he should pick one job or the other."

Racicot told Associated Press his salary from the law firm would remain the same for now but could be reduced in the future.

Racicot said last month he would serve as GOP chairman as a volunteer, meaning he would not accept the post's $150,000 annual salary. RNC spokeswoman Tucker said Wednesday that was still the case.

The RNC is expected to formally approve Racicot's appointment to succeed outgoing Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore on Jan. 19.

Racicot, 53, served as Montana's governor from 1993 to 2000. He was one of the earliest supporters of Bush's presidential candidacy and gained national attention as a campaign spokesman during the contentious recount in Florida that ultimately determined the election.

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