Watchdog groups say ties between a new White House aide and his former lobbying clients, including foreign governments, cast doubt on his ability to serve the American public.
But critics say Gillespie comes with strings attached, mostly to clients of his prospering lobbying firm Quinn Gillespie, which he co-founded in 2000 with former Clinton White House aide Jack Quinn.
The firm retains active accounts to represent a Dubai-owned aerospace firm as well as the Serbian portion of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Until recently, the firm represented the government of Pakistan, a contract worth several hundred thousand dollars a year.
Gillespie has never personally lobbied on behalf of those clients, according to his former partner Jack Quinn, a claim that appears to be supported by public filings.
"For a lot of Americans, this sort of lobbying doesn't pass the smell test," said Nathanial Heller of the Center for Public Integrity, a non-profit research and journalism organization, which has investigated lobbyists working for foreign regimes. "Oftentimes these governments have dubious track records," Heller said, "or [they] may have interests that are not necessarily shared by the U.S. government."
As a lobbyist, Gillespie pushed the agendas of dozens of major domestic organizations, and ethics groups are outraged that Bush has decided to bring him into his inner circle given those ties.
Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen, cites Gillespie's lobbying on behalf of Enron against efforts to re-regulate the electricity market, "which would have ended Enron's price gauging," Chrysler to fight against improvements of fuel economy standards, the Chamber of Commerce "to limit citizen access to the courts," and his push for energy legislation in 2005 "which included some $25 billion in corporate subsidies for oil, gas, nuclear and coal interests."
"In his new position as counselor to the president, he will be forging policy that likely will undermine public needs," said Claybrook.
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Quinn told the Blotter on ABCNews.com that Gillespie was completely separating himself from the firm and its profits.
"There will be no future payments, no contingencies. He is separating himself completely from the firm." Quinn noted he and Gillespie had sold their personal stakes in the firm in 2003, although they continued to work there.
The White House insisted Gillespie's old business presented no problems.
"All ethics boxes have been checked three times," said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino.
Government ethics experts caution there is little legal regulation of lobbyists moving through the revolving door into the government.
"There's no law yet that says you can't go back in the government having represented private clients, and people have done that in Washington from time immemorial," said Washington, D.C. attorney Stanley Brand, an expert in government ethics laws.
This is hardly the first time Gillespie has hopped from the private sector to public service.
"[H]e spins through the revolving door between the Bush world and K Street at a dizzying rate," reported the New Republic in a 2005 article, which profiled Gillespie as "Washington's omnipresent GOP operative."
"Over the last few years, his lobbying career has been interrupted by stints on Bush's first campaign, as party chair, and...as a strategist working out of the West Wing on the John Roberts nomination" to the Supreme Court, the magazine reported.
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