K Street Files: Democrats Move On
By Anna Palmer and Kate Ackley
BGR Group’s PR gurus Michael Meehan and David DiMartino are leaving the firm after a little more than a year to strike out on their own. The duo is set to launch Blue Line Strategic Communications on Thursday.
“We feel like in this environment a firm with Democratic operatives can be very successful, and we wanted to get back into a line of work which is really campaigning and this will help us do that,” DiMartino said of the decision to branch out on their own.
BGR doesn’t allow employees to engage political candidates or campaign committees as clients.
“We realized over the last year that’s a line of work we do want to be involved with,” DiMartino said.
The two firms will stay in close contact, however, as strategic partners. They expect to work together pitching potential clients on a case-by-case basis, according to DiMartino.
Blue Line will also have a strategic partnership with Virilion, an online media company where Meehan serves as senior vice president.
Meehan, who is president of the new firm, served as then-Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle’s (D-S.D.) national political director, chief of staff to Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), and as a top press staffer to Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) during his 2004 presidential campaign.
DiMartino, who will be the firm’s CEO, most recently served as deputy chief of staff to Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson (D). He has also worked at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and, like Meehan, has also been on the staffs of Sens. Cantwell and Kerry.
The two hope to bring their campaign experience to bear in the 2012 election cycle. So far, they’ve signed up four clients, the National Restaurant Association, the Coalition for Patent Fairness, Legal Sea Foods and Solazyme.
BlueLine will remain a communications firm; the pair does not plan to register to lobby.
Former BGR employees Erin Grandstaff and Stephanie Murguia are also joining the firm as account executive and project manager, respectively.
Meehan joined BGR before the November elections with an eye to helping draw Democratic talent to the firm. DiMartino was the firm’s second Democratic hire.
Since then, they’ve brought on several Democrats, including Jonathan Mantz, former finance director for Hillary Rodham Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign, and Charles Jefferson, former chief of staff to Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.).
The firm remains committed to staying bi-partisan, despite Meehan and DiMartino’s departure, BGR Group’s Loren Monroe said.
The firm’s public relations arm, BGR PR, will be serviced for the time being by Monroe, Mantz, and recent BGR hire Bill Turenne, a former director of outreach in the administration of George W. Bush.
The two sides in a trade dispute involving tire imports from China are stepping up the pressure on the Obama administration and Capitol Hill this week in preparation for a hearing Friday at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.
The United Steelworkers, which brought an International Trade Commission case against China, is hoping that unions’ support for President Barack Obama’s presidential campaign will carry some weight as his administration decides whether to implement a tariff recommended by the ITC as a remedy to reduce Chinese tire imports.
“He’s been true to his values since he got elected, and this is the test,” said Leo Gerard, president of the United Steelworkers, during a conference call with reporters Wednesday. “I want to believe that President Obama will enforce the remedy.”
Obama has until Sept. 17 to decide whether to impose the tariff.
Companies that import tires from China, however, argue that the Obama administration should not impose the tariff because it would hurt jobs in their sector and would ultimately cost tire consumers more money.
And the administration will take a broader view of the situation than what the ITC is tasked with, said Jim Jochum, a partner with Jochum Shore & Trossevin who represents the American Coalition for Free Trade in Tires.
“The president has to look at whether the national economic interest will be harmed if the ITC tariff is put in place,” Jochum said.
His side has brought in tire importers today to make the rounds on Capitol Hill and to gather signatures from Members for letters supporting their position.
The steelworkers have already gathered the support of several Members. Last month, a collection of Senators including Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) wrote to Obama to urge him to side with the steelworkers.
“Both the tire importers and producers of Chinese illegal tires, have made all kinds of inaccurate allegations … trumped up charges, disregarded the facts and entered into fear-mongering and scare-mongering,” Gerard said of his opposition.
The steelworkers brought the case under Section 421 of the World Trade Organization — it’s a rule that allows companies or workers to bring cases against import surges. Gerard added that since the steelworkers filed the case, Chinese tire imports have jumped by 20 percent because the Chinese were “trying to get ahead of the curve.”
Gerard said that the steelworkers “believe the future of the tire industry as we know it in America would be at risk if” the Obama administration does not implement the tariff.
Source: Roll Call, August 6, 2009