A new ad by U.S. Sen. Mark Warner tags Republican challenger Ed Gillespie as "million dollar lobbyist" and links him to a notorious client.
"His firm even lobbied for five foreign governments, including a dictator now awaiting trial for war crimes," narrator says.
We decided to take a look.
Although the ad doesn’t name the dictator, it leaves no doubt of his identity. The screen flashes an Ivory Coast flag and a headline from the Daily Mail in England on April 12, 2011 saying "Defiant dictator arrested." That article detailed the overthrow and capture of Laurent Gbagbo, who had ruled the Ivory Coast since 2000 and is now awaiting trial before the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.
The West African nation faced violent division during Gbagbo’s reign and for years, the ruler resisted international pressure to stand for reelection.
Gillespie, meanwhile, co-founded his lobbying firm in 2000 with Democrat Jack Quinn, a former chief of staff to Vice President Al Gore. On Nov. 10, 2004, Quinn Gillespie and Associates signed a six-month contract, worth $510,000, with the Ivory Coast to improve the nation’s relations with the United States. Among other things, the firm agreed to organize a visit to Washington for Gbagbo and meetings with U.S. leaders.
You won’t find Gillespie’s signature on the contract, however. That’s because he was absent from the firm for almost two years when the contract was signed, according to Paul Logan, Gillespie’s campaign spokesman. Logan said Gillespie went on leave in January 2003 to serve as chairman of the Republican National Committee and didn’t return until March 2005. The contract and the firm’s subsequent federal disclosure that it was representing a foreign agent was signed by Quinn.
The firm’s work for Gbagbo started Dec. 22, 2004 and ended June 30, 2005, according to a disclosure statement it filed with the U.S. Department of Justice. Jeffrey Connaughton, then vice chairman of Quinn Gillespie, told The New Yorker in 2012 that firm was hoping to demonstrate that Gbagbo was willing to have free and fair elections. Those hopes soured, the article said, when Connaughton flew to the Ivory Coast, met with Gbagbo, and concluded the leader "had no interest in democracy -- he just wanted P.R."
Connaughton sent us a statement, which he also gave to The Washington Post, saying Gillespie made it "clear" when the firm started that he would not represent foreign governments. "He was at the RNC when I decided to take the lead on Ivory Coast, so if anyone had checked with (the firm) or me, we would have confirmed that Ed had absolutely nothing to do with it."
Gbagbo finally agreed to hold elections in November 2010, but lost to Alassane Ouattara, refused to give up power and ignited a civil war. Gbagbo was arrested in May when French and rebel forces took control of the capital, Abidjan. He has been sent to The Hague, where International Criminal Court has charged him with four counts of being an indirect co-perpetrator of violent acts committed his troops. Human Rights Watch estimates at least 3,000 people were killed and 150 women were raped during the six-month crisis.
Warner’s ad also flashes the flags of four other countries it says Gillespie’s firm represented. David Turner, Warner’s campaign spokesman, backed the claim by sending us Quinn Gillespie disclosure forms. They showed the company worked for:
Pakistan from April 2006 to April 2008
Costa Rica from a few weeks near the end of 2006
Macedonia from April 2007 to April 2008
Bosnian Serb Republic from January 2007 through December 2007
The firm reported earning a total of $3 million from all five nations. For perspective, Quinn Gillespie was paid $52.3 million by domestic clients from 2006 to 2008, according OpenSecrets.org. The payments from foreign nations came to 5.4 percent of the firm’s revenues during the three years.
Gillespie says he’s never personally lobbied for a foreign government and the records back him up. Disclosure forms filed by the firm do not list him on its lobbying team for any of the nations. The teams generally had Democratic lobbyists, as indicated by their campaign donations, which were part of the disclosures.
Gillespie left the firm in June 2007 to work in President George W. Bush’s administration. The company continued its relationship with Bosnia and Macedonia after his departure and signed new contracts with Japan and Indonesia.
Warner’s ad says Gillespie’s "firm lobbied for five foreign governments, including a dictator now awaiting trial for war crimes."
The ad -- which is carefully worded -- has a point that Gillespie’s firm lobbied for five foreign governments, including the Ivory Coast, whose former ruler, Gbagbo, is awaiting trial at the International Criminal Court.
But the ad’s effort to link Gillespie to a brutal dictator lacks important context. Gillespie had been on leave from the firm for more than a year when the Ivory Coast deal was signed. None of the company’s federal disclosures indicate Gillespie was involved in the representation of any foreign clients, and Gbagbo was charged with crimes against humanity for events that happened in 2010 and 2011, well after the firm’s relationship with the Ivory Coast ended.
While there’s accuracy to Warner’s claim, it leaves out vital details. We rate it Half True.