Ivan Adler discusses Dickstein Shapiro’s reaction to Dennis Hastert’s indictment in an article in Politico.
By Tarini Parti and Anna Palmer | June 4, 2015
A week after the indictment of its most high-profile lobbyist, former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, law firm Dickstein Shapiro has gone underground.
Already struggling to rebound from a huge decline in its K Street lobbying business, the firm isn’t talking to the news media and does not appear to have mounted a behind-the-scenes PR offensive to keep clients from fleeing amid the Hastert scandal.
None of the firm’s clients — including the Republic of Turkey, Secure ID Coalition and Fuels America — would confirm to POLITICO whether they intend to keep Dickstein Shapiro on their consultant rosters. Sources affiliated with some Dickstein Shapiro clients also said they had not heard from the firm since Hastert’s indictment on May 28.
Although Hastert wasn’t considered a top K Street rainmaker, according to industry insiders, the scandal was the last thing the beleaguered lobbying practice needed. The firm has faced an exodus of lobbying talent over the past year and the loss of major client contracts. Dickstein billed just $130,000 on behalf of only eight clients for the first quarter of 2015 — not close to being on track for its overall 2014 billings, when it brought in $3.7 million for the year, according to Senate lobbying disclosures.
Hastert, who left Congress in 2007 and had prestige as the longest-serving Republican House speaker, was a well-connected former member who could offer his clients better access to lawmakers and a keen understanding of the legislative process. He signed a client – Secure ID Coalition — to work on issues “related to identity policy solutions” just weeks before the indictment came down, based on the disclosures.
Earlier this year, Hastert attracted media attention when he reportedly delivered a personal pitch to senators in the Senate Reception Room on behalf of Fuels America in favor of the renewable fuel standard. Some watchdog groups questioned whether Hastert was violating rules barring former lawmakers-turned-lobbyists from the House and Senate floor, but, according to the reports, Hastert lobbied members in private rooms and used the reception room just to greet members.
Dickstein Shapiro declined to respond to several inquiries for this story.
Instead, a spokesman for the firm again sent its statement from last week: “Dennis Hastert has resigned from the firm. Scott Thomas will continue to lead the Public Policy & Political Law Practice.”
Thomas also did not respond to several requests for comment.
Hastert has been in hiding since the indictment was issued. He is set to be arraigned next week on a federal indictment based on allegations that he sought to cover up a deal to pay $3.5 million to an acquaintance over “prior misconduct.” The Illinois Republican had already paid $1.7 million of that amount in small increments from various banks, and reports have said the payments were made as compensation to a former student for prior sexual misconduct.
News reports in recent days have named Barry Levine — a Dickstein partner and former defense lawyer for attempted Reagan assassin John Hinckley — as a defense attorney for the former speaker. However, Levine has yet to enter a formal appearance in the court docket, fueling speculation that the firm might try to step away from Hastert in order to get its name out of the spotlight. Levine didn’t respond to requests for comment.
While the firm’s external communications have all but shut down, Dickstein Shapiro quickly removed the former speaker’s bio from its website last week.
Additionally, the firm appears to have wiped all mention of Hastert from its previous news releases. For example, a recent release announcing the addition of former CIA director and House member Porter Goss previously touted that Goss would be joining Hastert and included a statement from the now-indicted former speaker. The same release now on the firm’s website seems to have been edited to purge all mentions of Hastert — even in a statement from Goss.
Law firm consultants and recruiters said Dickstein Shapiro shouldn’t try to ignore the ongoing scandal because it invites more scrutiny over what the firm knew and how they are handling the aftermath.
“In the short term, things like this are always a major issue, and certainly this is not something that Dickstein needed at this particular moment in the firm’s history,” said Ivan Adler, a veteran legal recruiter at the McCormick Group. Still, Adler said he doesn’t believe this is the “straw that will break the camel’s back” as long as the firm addresses it in a “strategic way both externally and internally.”
Another veteran crisis communications consultant added: “There isn’t much more that Dickstein Shapiro can say at this point beyond the termination of Hastert’s services, or else it becomes more of the story that could hurt its reputation. However, a comment made by the head of the office about how shocked and saddened they are by the situation would go a long way towards keeping their credibility. For legal reasons, the organization may not be able to make statements because of the manner on which Hastert separated from the firm.”
And some expressed doubts about the firm’s ability to right the ship […]
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