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Like many law firms, Blank Rome will be throwing a party this week during the Republican National Convention. The event, which is expected to draw 500 revelers, will be held in the lobby of New York’s storied Chrysler Building and is a hot ticket on the evening social circuit. Blank Rome and its chairman, David Girard-diCarlo, will have much to celebrate. Over the last four years, the Philadelphia-based firm has worked steadily to gain footholds in Washington and in the Bush administration and to solidify a role among the GOP’s elite supporters. The groundwork was first laid in Pennsylvania, when Tom Ridge, then the state’s governor, looked to Girard-diCarlo, one of his longtime political boosters, to help him bring the 2000 Republican Convention to Philadelphia. Since then, Blank Rome lawyers and lobbyists have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for President George W. Bush, worked for free on the Florida vote recount, and poured more than a half-million dollars into Republican state and nationwide campaigns, rivaling the donations of far larger firms. At the same time, Blank Rome’s presence in the District has grown significantly, expanding to more than 70 attorneys and lobbyists, from about 25 in 2000 — thanks in large part to a 2003 merger with another Republican-leaning law and lobbying firm, Dyer, Ellis & Joseph. The firm’s size in Washington belies its influence, and it has since started to reap the usual Washington dividends: presidential appointments, access to high-ranking officials, government contracts for its clients — and, most important, more clients overall. The number of companies for which Blank Rome lobbies Congress has grown dramatically in the last five years. In 1999, the firm was registered to lobby for eight clients, and in 2002, 18. By 2003, Blank Rome lobbyists registered to represent the interests of 67 clients. The lobbying practice expects to bring in $7 million in retainers this year, Girard-diCarlo says. In 2000, Blank Rome for the first time joined the ranks of the 100 top-grossing firms in the country, according the annual survey conducted by The American Lawyer magazine, and in 2003, brought in about $224 million in revenue. All along, its lawyers were continuing to give generously to political campaigns. During the 2004 election cycle, Blank Rome has again kept pace with much bigger firms, giving slightly more than $1 million to local, state, and federal political campaigns, with 20 percent going to Democrats and 80 percent to Republicans, according to data from the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. Of the top 20 law and lobby firms that have given political contributions in 2004, Blank Rome ranks third, just behind the Association of Trial Lawyers of America and law and lobby firm Piper Rudnick, which is twice the size of Blank Rome. PENNSYLVANIA PIPELINE For most of its existence, Blank Rome, founded in 1946, wore the profile of the regional firm it was, with small outposts in Pennsylvania towns like Allentown and Media, along with offices in Boca Raton, Fla., and Cincinnati. Its 2000 acquisition of 80-lawyer Tenzer Greenblatt in New York began to change that image, and its subsequent growth in the District has signaled the firm’s intent to go national. When he first heard buzz about Blank Rome about two years ago, veteran Washington lobbyist Ronald Platt wasn’t sure what to make of the Philadelphia firm. “Initially, it was almost exclusively Republican, and it sort of got going when [Secretary Tom] Ridge came here and when Homeland Security got up and running,” says Platt, who is director of lobbying for Buchanan Ingersoll and has worked as a lobbyist in the District for 22 years. He adds that until Blank Rome hired Democratic lobbyist Heather Podesta in February, he thought it was “one of those new, nothing-but-Republican firms.” Indeed, the firm’s growth in Washington coincided with Ridge’s move to the newly created White House Office of Homeland Security in 2001. (The office was made a Cabinet-level agency in 2002.) Some of the firm’s top lobbyists have worked for Ridge both at Homeland Security and previously in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania Republican Party Chairman Alan Novak, who got to know Girard-diCarlo while the two were raising money for Ridge’s first gubernatorial bid in 1993, says that Blank Rome’s presence in Washington benefits a network of Pennsylvania Republican power brokers. “We’re all products of the Tom Ridge team,” Novak says. “We’ve established pretty clearly a pipeline to the administration through what was once the Ridge network, and David is on the ground for us in Washington to help.” Girard-diCarlo says, however, that whatever Ridge’s fortunes, the firm still would have grown in the District. And bipartisanship, he adds, is a necessity for any successful law or lobby shop in Washington. “If we’re not bipartisan, we tie one of our hands behind our back,” Girard-diCarlo says. But, he adds, “we have a very strong Republican leaning among many of our colleagues, there is no question about that.” BULLISH ON BUSH Girard-diCarlo has led the firm’s charge in developing a relationship with the Bush administration, personally raising more than $200,000 for Bush in 2000 and at least that amount for the president’s bid for re-election, making him a Bush “Ranger,” according to the Bush campaign. Girard-diCarlo headed Pennsylvania fund raising for Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign and is doing the same in 2004. The 61-year-old Philadelphia native is, by his own admission, a bit of a fund-raising junkie. He puts it simply: “When I believe in something, I like to raise money for it.” Girard-diCarlo, who gave $5,000 to the Republican legal fund for the presidential vote recount in 2000, showed that championing Bush wasn’t only about donating money. He responded to a Bush campaign request and agreed to allow 10 Blank Rome lawyers to work without pay on behalf of Bush in the legal case surrounding the Florida vote-counting dispute. That show of loyalty was apparently not lost on the new president. When he took office, Bush appointed Girard-diCarlo to his Department of Transportation transition team. He later made Girard-diCarlo, who has a general business and litigation practice, a trustee of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, just across the way from Blank Rome’s D.C. office in the Watergate office complex. In 2003, Girard-diCarlo registered to lobby for two clients, FastShip Inc. and Ionatron Inc., which were brought to Blank Rome, respectively, by Dyer, Ellis and Tenzer Greenblatt, the New York firm Blank Rome merged with in 2000. In February, Congress and the Bush administration dedicated $40 million in federal funds to help build a $130 million terminal for FastShip in Philadelphia. Tucson, Ariz.-based Ionatron secured $12.6 million in the Defense Department’s 2005 budget bill to develop a laser weapon for the Navy. The company, founded in 2001, also won $3.4 million in the Pentagon’s 2004 budget for development of its technology. BUILDING THE SHOP One of Blank Rome’s best-known lobbying stars is David Norcross, a former general counsel to the Republican National Committee. Norcross, a chairman of the Committee on Arrangements for the 2004 convention, joined Blank Rome in 1994, establishing the firm’s first lobbying presence in Washington. In 2001, Norcross, who declined to be interviewed for this article, started to expand what was then Blank Rome’s two-man lobby shop in Washington. Trevor Potter, president of the Campaign Legal Center and a former chairman of the Federal Election Commission, says Norcross was a shrewd choice for a regional firm trying to gain influence in Washington. “He’s well-connected politically and a logical person to help them to build a Washington practice,” Potter says. Norcross is registered to lobby for 14 companies, including the Raytheon Corp. and the Boeing Co., which is fighting to keep a $23.5 billion contract to lease at least 100 of its refueling tanker jets to the Air Force in the face of a government contracting scandal that has already resulted in a former top Boeing official pleading guilty. (Government relations powerhouse Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld also lobbies heavily for the Chicago-based aerospace company.) Norcross anchored the lobby shop with J.C. Boggs, a board member of the Republican National Lawyers Association. Boggs, one of the Blank Rome lawyers sent to Florida to aid Bush in the recount effort, lobbies for Rajant Inc., an Arlington, Va.-based company that in 2003 landed a $5.4 million research and development contract with the Army. The company, which also retains lobbyists from the American Continental Group, developed a device that makes it easy to establish a high-speed wireless connection, an application that the company says could be used by soldiers in battle. The Pentagon is one place where Blank Rome has made inroads, Boggs says. Another place is the Department of Homeland Security, in large thanks to the firm’s connections to Ridge. HOMELAND HEAVYWEIGHTS In early 2001, Norcross and Boggs hired Mark Holman, a 20-year veteran of Pennsylvania Republican politics. Holman had been then-Gov. Ridge’s chief of staff and previously was on the staff of the late Sen. John Heinz (R-Pa.). He had also worked on the first President Bush’s 1980 and 1988 campaigns. About a year after he arrived at Blank Rome, Holman was appointed to the Office of Homeland Security in the White House, where he was a principal adviser to his old boss, Ridge. At the White House, Holman oversaw the external affairs team, acting as a liaison with the private sector, and state and local governments. His most recent stint working for Ridge was invaluable, Holman says. “I learned more during that 15 months than in any other 15 months of my life,” Holman says. For Holman, the Homeland Security position provided a natural segue back into lobbying, and when he returned to Blank Rome, his practice took off. He says that when he arrived at Blank Rome in 2001, he had intended to concentrate on Pennsylvania and mid-Atlantic clients, but the experience with Ridge in Washington changed his calculus. By 2003, Holman, who has committed to raise $100,000 for the president in this year’s campaign, was registered to lobby for more than 30 companies, including Chicago-based Boeing; Waltham, Mass.-based Raytheon; and McLean, Va.-based BearingPoint. He was joined at Blank Rome by Carl Buchholz, who had been special assistant to the president and executive secretary at the Office of Homeland Security. Among the clients Buchholz is registered to lobby for is Advanced Programs Inc., which builds highly secure computers that it markets primarily to the federal government and to governments of NATO countries. Blank Rome continued to lure other Bush administration officials, including Barbara Comstock and Ashley Davis, who joined the firm’s government relations arm last year. Director of public affairs at the Department of Justice under Attorney General John Ashcroft, Comstock had also been a research and strategy director for the Republican National Committee for the 2000 campaign. Comstock, who is both a partner in Blank Rome’s law firm and a principal in its government relations practice, says that Blank Rome’s integration of lobbying, public relations, and legal work was appealing, as was the freedom to continue to play a visible role in Republican Party politics, such as appearing on television on behalf of Bush’s campaign. Comstock counts the Comcast Corp. and the Recording Industry Association of America among her clients, and is also registered to lobby for Wichita, Kan.-based oil conglomerate Koch Industries Inc. Davis, who was a special assistant to Ridge at Homeland Security, worked for President Bush’s transition team four years ago and for the Republican conventions in 2000 and 2004. Count Girard-diCarlo, too, as another regular presence in Blank Rome’s D.C. office. A year ago, he began to spend most of his time in Washington, calling it his “primary focus.” That, he says, allows him to act as a bridge among offices of an “evolving firm” — and to pursue his work for Bush. “The highest and best use of my time is to spend it in Washington and New York,” he says, “trying to help the president get re-elected.”

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