Professional Growth

Ruling Says Cole Can Keep Hand in Old Firm

Posted July 16, 2003 at 6:41pm

The political consulting firm formed by Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) more than a decade ago is reorganizing following his election to Congress last year.

Cole will remain affiliated with Cole Hargrave Snodgrass and Associates, which will retain its direct mail, voter contact and polling components.

A new firm, CMA Strategies, has been spun off from the original company and will handle general political consulting matters. It will be run by two of Cole’s partners in CHS — Pat McFerron and Sharon Hargrave Caldwell.

“CHS is a well-established name and entity and me leaving should not negatively impact my partners,” Cole said about the move.

McFerron said that the two companies are taking “starkly different paths” and that “every day they are farther apart.”

After Cole won the open seat election to replace Rep. J.C. Watts (R) in 2002, he hired GOP attorney Cleta Mitchell to handle the proper restructuring of his holdings in CHS and sought a ruling from the House Ethics Committee on the matter.

In a letter from that committee, Chairman Joel Hefley (R-Colo.) and ranking member Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.) wrote that “any services Representative Cole renders in behalf of [CHS] for compensation may

not be either consulting or advising in nature.

“In addition, under the gift rule, any compensation that he is paid for services may not exceed the fair market value of the services he provides,” Hefley and Mollohan noted.

Cole explained that “CHS can continue to function as a firm insofar as it provides direct and tangible services,” like polling memos, telephone calls or direct mail pieces. “General consulting and fiduciary things would go beyond the limit.”

Cole is also not allowed to have contact with the firm’s current clients or solicit business from new clients and he cannot earn more than $23,205 a year from the company, in keeping with the Congressional limits on outside income.

Cole said his role with the firm will be to deal with “technical” and “historical” questions. He was one of three original partners when CHS was founded in 1989.

Cole said that he sought the committee’s advice on the matter rather than simply dissolve his interest in the company because of the job insecurity in his current post and his desire to see his partners prosper.

He noted that after serving as executive director of the National Republican Congressional Committee in the 1992 cycle, “I was very happy to have the firm to return to.”

CHS handles much of the polling and general consulting for Sooner State Republicans. The company’s clients include Sens. Don Nickles and Jim Inhofe as well as Reps. Ernest Istook, Frank Lucas and Cole.

CHS is also the consultant of choice for Oklahoma City Mayor Kirk Humphries (R), who is widely expected to run for the Senate in 2004 if Nickles decides against seeking a fifth term. Istook is also interested in that race, which could create a difficult dilemma for CHS.

Although the firm is clearly the first choice for Oklahoma Republicans, it experienced several tough setbacks in the last cycle.

First, former Oklahoma first lady Cathy Keating, a CHS client, blew a huge lead in the special election to replace Rep. Steve Largent (R) in the 1st district.

Keating lost the December 2001 primary by 15 points and dropped out of the race prior to a scheduled runoff in January, handing Rep. John Sullivan (R) a victory.

The second blow came when Largent, who stepped down from Congress to run for governor full time, was defeated by little known state Sen. Brad Henry (D) in 2002. Largent, who had served in the House since 1994, was considered a shoo-in but refused to run any comparative or negative advertising in the campaign.