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Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Clinton's Mark Penn Problem


When a not-yet-world-famous political consultant named Karl Rove signed up back in 1999 to become the chief strategist for Texas Governor George W. Bush's presidential campaign, his client had a non-negotiable demand: Rove had to get rid of the lucrative direct-mail business he had run for 18 years. Bush, Rove once told me, had put it in the bluntest terms. "If I do this," Rove recalled Bush telling him. "I want you free and clear."

Hillary Clinton, by contrast, never insisted on any such promise from her political guru, Mark Penn. Indeed, the potential for conflict only increased when — as Clinton was launching her Senate re-election campaign in 2005, in a test run for a potential presidential bid in 2008 — Penn was named worldwide CEO of Burson-Marsteller, one of the largest firms in the world of public relations, a field in which Washington advocacy has been playing a bigger and bigger role. Last year, Bloomberg News reported that Penn's private blog for his Burson-Marsteller colleagues included an entry titled: "Workin With Hillary.'' In it, he reportedly wrote, "I have found the mixing of corporate and political work to be stimulating, enormously helpful in attracting talent, and helpful in cross-pollinating new ideas and skills.'' "And,'' he added, "I have found it good for business.''

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