When all the lobbyists for the new AT&T showed up for the freshly merged company’s first strategy meeting, they packed into a conference room that one attendee called “the size of a stadium.” The Jan. 22 gathering, which some said topped 70 people, was standing-room only.
The session made two things clear: Not only is the new AT&T’s Washington, D.C., operation colossal, but the combination of lobbyists for AT&T, BellSouth and Cingular Wireless also can be cumbersome. Although everyone expects the new AT&T to be a powerhouse of lobbying and campaign giving, lobbyists working for the company say right now it’s focused more on its internal workings than a legislative agenda on Capitol Hill.
Already, some in-house lobbyists have opted to make an exit. Some outside lobbying consultants have been cut. And lobbyists expect more changes to shake out over the next year as the three lobbying offices prepare to move in together this week.
“I think there are a lot of challenges, logistical challenges,” said one of seven outside consultants for AT&T who would speak only on the condition of anonymity. “They are definitely one big company now, and as such there’ll be a lot of scrutiny placed upon them. Once they get their act together, they’ll have a very formidable government relations operation.”
The changes have made an imprint on K Street firms and could have an impact on the trade associations that count AT&T as a member.
Numerous sources said that former BellSouth consultants such as Locke Liddell Strategies and the Smith-Free Group have not been retained by AT&T, while other firms such as Cassidy & Associates, which already represented AT&T, naturally lost a client when BellSouth joined the fold.
Just this week, former BellSouth lobbyist Broderick Johnson, a former deputy assistant for legislative affairs in President Bill Clinton’s White House, is announcing that he will join the lobby firm Bryan Cave Strategies as its president and counsel to the shop’s affiliated law firm. An AT&T spokeswoman said she would not comment on any personnel moves or the relationship the new company has — or does not have — with outside consultants. It previously had been announced that AT&T lobbyist Sean Kennedy left to become the top aide to Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.).
BellSouth lobbyists expected to stay on with AT&T include Lyndon Boozer and Troup Coronado. Those BellSouth lobbyists are joining a fold headed by James Cicconi, the company’s San Antonio-based senior executive vice president of external and legislative affairs, and Tim McKone, executive vice president of federal relations.
“There are a lot of chefs in that kitchen,” said a second outside lobbyist.
That said, a third consultant added, “People seem to be blending in and getting along.” A fourth lobbyist chimed in that “everybody seems upbeat and excited.”
Kent Wells, who has run the Cingular office, for example, attends the lobbying meetings, which since the Jan. 22 event have been limited to one consultant per firm, several sources said.
Those meetings, attendees said, typically are run by Peter Jacoby, a longtime AT&T lobbyist with ties to Democrats, and Tim McGivern, a Republican who came from SBC, which acquired AT&T but took the AT&T name.
Wells is expected to be among those moving this week, along with other AT&T lobbyists, into BellSouth’s old space at 1133 21st St. NW, two sources confirmed. Cingular’s three outside firms also are expected to stay on board, lobbying sources said. Those firms are Paula Timmons Consulting, Mattoon & Associates and Capitol Solutions.
According to lobbying disclosure reports as well as interviews, the new AT&T’s outside lobbying firms include the Ashcroft Group, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, Cassidy, DC Navigators, Barbour Griffith & Rogers, Ogilvy Government Relations and Quinn Gillespie & Associates, among others
Firms that signed on from the old BellSouth, such as Clyburn Consulting, were not automatically retained by AT&T. The firms were put through a selection process. And no one is resting easy.
“There are always more changes down the road,” said one lobbyist familiar with the merger. “I would be shocked if there weren’t some internal personnel changes before the end of the year. I think a lot of that remains to be determined.”
A fifth outside consultant said he and his peers will have to “prove your mettle” this year.
Even so, a telecom lobbyist who does not represent AT&T said the cultures “are going to mesh.” But this lobbyist said the newly combined company’s lobbying operation is “overkill,” as was its lobbying power even before the merger. An AT&T lobbyist disagreed. Even with all that firepower last year, AT&T did not get telecommunications reform legislation it wanted, he pointed out.
As for AT&T’s trade associations, some lobbyists said that the newly enlarged AT&T could result in a redefined mission for the U.S. Telecom Association and also could lead to a bigger presence within CTIA — The Wireless Association.
But in a statement released through an AT&T spokeswoman, McKone stated that “the merger of BellSouth and Cingular into AT&T has not changed the dynamics of our involvement with the trade associations that we are members.”
And USTA spokeswoman Allison Remsen e-mailed a statement: “The new AT&T team has brought keen political insight, commitment and resources to the collective work of the industry and its association.”
Joseph Farren, director of public affairs at CTIA, said AT&T will likely have the same voice as Cingular. “Cingular always had a powerful voice, and I think they will continue. They’re one of our largest members,” he said. CTIA and AT&T also have a connection in Jot Carpenter, who left AT&T and joined CTIA in September as its head of government affairs.
Said one former AT&T executive: “Changes are coming” at those associations.