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Short of visiting the Smithsonian, stepping into the office of the all-Democrat shop Ricchetti Inc. is one of the more anachronistic experiences visitors to Washington can avail themselves of these days. Despite the obvious advances in technology required to conduct business in the 21st century, the office remains a time portal to the mid-1990s, a respite from the GOP power that has dominated Washington since George W. Bush became president in 2001. Inside the small office that serves as a nucleus for five partisan lobbyists, a poster on the wall of the reception room invites guests to the opening ceremonies of Bill Clinton’s 1993 presidential inauguration: “New Beginnings Renewed Hope,” proclaims the poster. Another one advertises a 1994 event paying tribute to former Sen. John Glenn (D-Ohio), signed by the astronaut himself. And autographed photos of Democratic lions, including Sen. Ted Kennedy (Mass.) and former Sen. George Mitchell (Maine), adorn the walls of the office of firm President Steve Ricchetti, the former lobbyist for Clinton. The mood is quintessentially mid-90s. For the five-year-old firm, new beginnings and renewed hope may soon be on the way, in the form of a Democratic majority on Capitol Hill. With the midterm elections this week and projections that Democrats may reclaim the House of Representatives and make sizable gains in the Senate, K Street Democrats are optimistic that their party — in exile for 12 years in the House — is on its way back. Being an all-Democrat shop during the past five years wouldn’t seem to be much of a business plan, but Ricchetti has quietly — and perhaps surprisingly — thrived. And it’s been as much for losing campaigns as winning. In 2005, the firm did $2.4 million in lobbying revenues for high-profile clients such as AT&T Inc., Eli Lilly & Co., and the American Hospital Association, all of which have remained on retainer since 2001, when the firm reported $1.96 million in lobby revenue. It’s left other Democrats on K Street scratching their heads. “I’m amazed that so many all-Democratic firms have been able to survive, because it’s definitely been a challenging environment for Democrats to get things accomplished,” says lobbyist Andy Rosenberg, a Democrat at the Federalist Group, formerly an all-Republican firm. The firm’s success flies in the face of the current established blueprint in Washington, which calls for a bipartisan mix of lobbyists who can serve any sort of current or prospective client. “I had good Democrat battery life back in Illinois and here, but I soon knew I couldn’t be a Democrat-slanted firm,” says Gary LaPaille, a Democratic lobbyist who heads up the bipartisan firm mCapitol Management. “[Democratic firms] are forced to zero in on the Democratic base, labor unions, teacher unions . . . some of those causes you probably find yourself more involved in in political type of work.” But Ricchetti has defied the odds. The firm’s work has not been union-based. And they’ve been anything but marginalized, say clients. “They’ve definitely not been in the wilderness,” says Jim Cregan, executive vice president of government affairs for the Magazine Publishers of America. “We’re not big,” adds Cregan, whose association is represented by both Ricchetti’s firm and the all-Republican shop Fierce, Isakowitz & Blalock. “We just felt that by going with a smaller boutique firm we would get more specialized attention than we would with one of the larger firms.” With the midterm campaigns winding down, Ricchetti has been spending three days a week for the past four weeks in Ohio, serving as “another set of eyes” in the campaign to elect Democratic Rep. Sherrod Brown to the U.S. Senate, dividing his time between there and his shop in Washington. Judging by the hectic schedule (and his balancing it with his family life), the 49-year-old Ricchetti may need more than the large bottle of Centrum Silver multivitamins that sits atop his desk. Never mind that the vitamins are designed for those over 50. “We’ve done very well in that [Republican] environment in the way we’ve done our business, and hopefully we’ll be able to do better,” says Ricchetti. “Obviously, I’m hoping for everyone’s sake, and the country’s sake, we win back the House and Senate and make a broader contribution there.” Ricchetti says there is no new business plan should the Democrats regain control. The firm, which attracts work on a purely word-of-mouth and reputation basis, doesn’t have any company literature or a Web site, though Ricchetti says a site is soon coming. In terms of new hires, Ricchetti says he’ll make a decision in the next several months if the work opportunities are significant enough to warrant an addition. The current team includes Ricchetti’s 46-year-old brother, Jeff, a former PodestaMattoon lobbyist; James Heimbach, the former head of legislative affairs at the Federal Communications Commission; Luke Albee, former chief of staff for Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.); and Scott Greenberger, a former reporter for The Boston Globe and The Austin-American Statesman. HEAD COACH Within weeks of leaving the White House (where he was the deputy chief of staff to Clinton) in 2001, Ricchetti returned to the lobbying world with a pocket full of corporate clients, including Eli Lilly and Fannie Mae. Ricchetti, his brother, and Heimbach originally formed Ricchetti & Associates back in 1998 but disbanded when Ricchetti went to work at the White House. At the time, his brother went to work at PodestaMattoon (co-owned by Clinton Chief of Staff John Podesta’s brother, Tony). Ricchetti’s career in Democratic politics is lengthy. He was the executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Along with former Secretary of Commerce William Daley, Ricchetti led the Clinton administration’s efforts to normalize trade with China. From 1993 to 1996, he was the principal legislative liaison to the Senate for Clinton. Ricchetti is the firm’s sole owner and does not share equity with his colleagues. “These guys are treated like partners,” he says. “I just own the company.” The firm has no political action committee. All partners give individually and sizably to Democratic lawmakers from Sen. Robert Byrd (W.Va.) to Sen. Barbara Boxer (Calif.). There is not one donation to a Republican lawmaker. And yet one of the strengths of Ricchetti’s firm, clients and colleagues say, is its strong reputation among Republicans. “They universally like him,” says Howard Paster, a former director of legislative affairs in the Clinton White House who worked with Ricchetti 13 years ago. One Republican lobbyist who heads a technology company hired Ricchetti because of the breadth of his relationships with Democrats on the Hill. Ricchetti can walk into any Democratic office on the Hill and have a conversation, the lobbyist says. “Hiring Steve is like hiring Bill Parcells for your coach in football,” says the lobbyist, who no longer works with Ricchetti. “He’s done it. He’s won a Super Bowl. There’s no question he can do it.” THE AT&T FACTOR Ricchetti’s shop has teamed up with Edward Gillespie of Quinn Gillespie & Associates for work on the American Hospital Association and Kenneth Kies of the Clark Consulting Federal Policy Group for the American Association of Life Underwriters. Additionally, he has worked with veteran Republican lobbyist Charlie Black on a number of campaigns. One of the efforts the two teamed up on was Voices for Choices, a multimillion-dollar effort from 2001 to 2002 whose first goal was to defeat the Internet Freedom and Broadband bill introduced by then House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman W.J. “Billy” Tauzin (R-La.) and committee ranking member John Dingell (D-Mich.). The bill would have allowed the Baby Bells (Verizon Communications Inc., BellSouth Corp., and SBC Communications Inc.) to offer broadband access over their long-distance lines. The coalition, composed of the Ma Bells such as AT&T Corp. (which was and remains a client of Ricchetti’s), along with Sprint Nextel Corp. and WorldCom Inc., fought to allow the local phone companies to use the Bell resources at a reasonable price, says Black. The legislation was defeated after a lengthy battle. Then, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals issued an opinion which effectively endorsed the defeated legislation. The coalition soon urged the Bush administration to weigh in on the side of AT&T at the Supreme Court, but it refused. In January 2005, SBC announced it would buy AT&T and changed its name to AT&T Inc. Black says the loss of AT&T was not the sole result of the coalition’s efforts, though he admits that it likely played a role. “It might have happened anyhow, but it certainly took away a new business initiative for AT&T that they didn’t feel they could compete with the Bells anymore in the local phone market,” says Black. And one former AT&T lobbyist says Ricchetti’s campaign ultimately led to the acquisition of AT&T. During the presidential election of 2004, the coalition ran ads insinuating that the White House was politically vulnerable if it did not side with AT&T in the courts. “It so infuriated Bush that the administration went against AT&T at the Supreme Court,” says the lobbyist. “Steve’s a good friend, a good guy, but you are judged by your track records. . . . There’s a lot of wind and no rain.” Ricchetti says there is no connection at all between the coalition’s efforts and the acquisition of AT&T. “From a time standpoint, those two things didn’t match up,” he says. Jim Cicconi, senior executive vice president of external and legislative affairs for AT&T, who was the company’s general counsel at the time, says: “I would not get too hung up on one undertaking. He’s an incredibly valuable counselor, strategist, and, frankly, policy wonk.” Additionally, Ricchetti says there is no bad blood between him and Dingell over the defeat of the Michigan lawmaker’s legislation. “We represent GM [General Motors is in Dingell's district]; I do work with Debbie Dingell [Dingell's wife, who works at GM]; they are among my closest friends,” says Ricchetti. “We’ve vacationed with them and do many things socially. We disagreed on this issue, but it has not interfered in the slightest with our relationship.” In June of this year, Ricchetti gave Dingell $1,000 in campaign contributions. And there appears to be no hard feelings at AT&T, which paid Ricchetti’s firm $300,000 in lobbying fees last year on a variety of measures, including the merger with SBC. Ricchetti has teamed up with Black again for another coalition, TV4US, a multimillion-dollar coalition designed to promote the telecom bill that passed the House this summer — a measure that Dingell, who will oversee telecom issues should the Democrats regain a majority in the House, voted against. Ricchetti says telecom issues don’t have a traditional Republican/Democratic ideological split, and as a result, there are certain points of the bill he and Dingell agree and disagree with. And the firm waded into the judicial wars set off by two vacancies on the U.S. Supreme Court last year. It counseled the Alliance for Justice, a liberal group opposed to conservative judicial nomination, on the nominations of John Roberts Jr. and Samuel Alito Jr. The work was largely done by Albee, the former chief of staff to Leahy, who is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Despite the confirmation of both justices (Leahy voted for Roberts but not Alito), Dick Woodruff, a lobbyist at the Alliance for Justice, says the firm was helpful. “They did everything we asked them to,” he says. “They helped us get in to see people and figure out who we needed to see.” If the Democrats take over the House or the Senate, friends of Ricchetti say, his firm will be busier. With Democrat gains, the party can look toward the 2008 presidential election. And Ricchetti is likely to be involved in that effort in some capacity. Hanging on his office wall is a black-and-white photo, dated 1993, with an inscription: “To Steve Ricchetti whose boundless energy and optimism is a daily joy and persistent motivator with appreciation and affection for all your hard work.” The signatory? Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Joe Crea can be contacted at [email protected].

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