The Campaign Spot

Fred Thompson and the Lobbying Billing Records

Fred Thompson’s in hot water today.

The New York Times obtained the records of his lobbying for the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association at the Arent Fox firm.

According to records from Arent Fox, the law firm based in Washington where Mr. Thompson worked part-time from 1991 to 1994, he charged the organization, the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association, about $5,000 for work he did in 1991 and 1992. The records show that Mr. Thompson, a probable Republican candidate for president in 2008, spent much of that time in telephone conferences with the president of the group, and on three occasions he reported lobbying administration officials on its behalf…
The billing records from Arent Fox show that Mr. Thompson, who charged about $250 an hour, spoke 22 times with Judith DeSarno, who was then president of the family planning group. In addition, he lobbied “administration officials” for a total of 3.3 hours, the records show, although they do not specify which officials he met with or what was said.

In and of itself, the lobbying should not depress pro-lifers hoping he’s their guy; as the Times notes, “from the time he was elected to the Senate from Tennessee in 1994 until he left office in early 2003, Mr. Thompson voted for every abortion restriction measure as well as a ban on government financed abortion for Defense Department personnel.”
But Thompson’s reaction to this story since it appeared is not encouraging. “Were you a lobbyist for this pro-abortion group back in 1991?” is not an illegtimate question, no matter how much Team Thompson or the rest of us may not like the Los Angeles Times. Fred’s answers have been a blanket denial [UPDATE: See this post], then a claim that he can’t recall, and finally a declaration that those types of questions about former clients are off-limits. The argument put forth in that column sent to Powerline appears to be a mistake, in retrospect. One way or another, information about Thompson’s previous work for clients will come out; better that we hear it from him, with his perspective and justifications.
Is it believable that Fred Thompson doesn’t remember working for this firm at all? It was fifteen to sixteen years ago, and so it’s plausible that he wouldn’t remember twenty hours’ worth of work spread out over a two year period. But once the question was raised, the only memory-jogging Thompson did was a call to John Sununu (who did not remember him lobbying, either), as far as we know. It would have helped if Thompson had gone through his personal records, talked to former colleagues at Arent Fox, etc., to try to get the information so he could answer the question completely. And it would have been more reassuring to hear all of this from the candidate instead of from the New York Times.
Thompson may insist the work is irrelevant, but in the end, the voters will decide whether or not to take it into consideration.
I should also note that last night an individual close to Thompson contacted me to emphasize that ”Thompson specifically denied – and still denies – the allegation the L.A. Times made, which was that Thompson lobbied Sununu for this group… Along with that, however, he’s also acknowledged that he genuinely didn’t recall whether he’d ever spoken to people on the subject in 1991.”
Again, both are believable, but once the L.A. Times story appeared, folks watching the campaign – not just L.A. Times reporters who may have an axe to grind – were genuinely curious about just what Thompson did and did not do for this group. Sean Hannity asked about it. And looking back, Thompson did not do anything to help shed light on this subject.

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