In Virginia’s contentious gubernatorial race, Democrat Ralph Northam has identified what he sees as a new vulnerability in Republican Ed Gillespie’s political consulting work: His clients included major corporations that laid off Virginia workers.
Gillespie or his firms previously advised Bank of America, Anthem and AT&T, companies that shed hundreds of jobs in Virginia, in some cases while Gillespie was advising the clients.
“You know a man by the people he serves. Ralph Northam has spent his entire life serving his country and the commonwealth of Virginia, while Ed Gillespie spent over 30 years of his career fighting for wealthy special interests ― including corporations that laid off thousands of Virginians,” Christina Freundlich, the Northam campaign’s deputy communications director, said in a statement. “Virginians shouldn’t have to question whether or not their governor is going to fight for their jobs, or fight for the wellbeing of corporate clients that lined Gillespie’s pockets with cash.”
The Gillespie campaign did not immediately respond to a request for a response to the accusation.
Gillespie has a long history of advising the three corporations in the past decade and a half, a tenure punctuated by a brief stint in the White House of then-President George W. Bush and two political campaigns.
Virginia law does not require candidates for statewide office to disclose the name of every company operating in the state that they have retained as a client. But Gillespie’s campaign revealed that Gillespie’s firm, Ed Gillespie Strategies, advised Bank of America, Anthem and AT&T in 2016, as well as Microsoft.
In the 2014 financial disclosure for Gillespie’s failed Senate bid, he also listed Bank of America and AT&T as clients of his firm in the preceding two years.
And prior to joining the Bush White House as a counselor to the president in 2007, Gillespie was at the helm of QGA Public Affairs, the bipartisan lobbying and consulting powerhouse that he co-founded. The firm’s many clients included Bank of America, AT&T and Anthem.
Bank of America paid QGA at least $780,000 in lobbying fees from 2005 until Gillespie’s 2007 departure for the White House, and retained Gillespie’s consulting services again in 2013 as it sought to fend off a potential effort to break up the big banks.
Meanwhile, shortly after Gillespie left QGA to join the Bush White House, the bank began laying off workers in Virginia, continuing to do so until 2015. Bank of America laid off 136 workers in the Richmond-area location in December 2007, and another 135 workers in August 2010 in the same region. The firm laid off hundreds more workers in subsequent years, including over 100 employees in Henrico County and Norfolk in early 2014, and more than 200 workers from a single Norfolk location in March 2015.
Gillespie’s relationships with Anthem and AT&T follow a similar pattern. His work for both companies either coincides with or follows significant layoffs.
Anthem announced an unspecified number of layoffs in April 2015, while AT&T laid off 62 employees at a relay center in Norton, Virginia, in August 2015.
It is not clear whether Gillespie was advising either company at the time of the layoffs or merely began his work with them in 2016. But Gillespie’s relationship with AT&T goes back more than a decade. Under Gillespie’s leadership, QGA received $540,000 in lobbying fees from the telecommunications giant in 2006 and the first half of 2007.
The nature of Gillespie’s consulting work for Anthem and AT&T also has the potential to prove controversial on the campaign trail. His services for the two companies involved counseling them on potential mergers, according to Gillespie’s campaign.
Health insurer Anthem tried to merge with its large competitor Cigna, but a federal judge blocked it in February 2017 on the grounds that it would harm consumers. For its part, AT&T is currently seeking to merge with Time Warner, and the Trump administration’s Department of Justice is close to completing a review that would allow it to proceed.
Mergers of large firms often lead to industry consolidation that limits competition and hurts consumers, critics say. The four largest health insurance companies controlled 83 percent of the market in 2014, up from 74 percent in 2006, according to the nonpartisan Commonwealth Fund.
The mergers would also likely have resulted in additional layoffs at Anthem and AT&T. By creating redundancies in personnel, mergers typically result in layoffs. After Verizon, HuffPost’s parent company, acquired Yahoo in June, it laid off 15 percent of Yahoo and AOL’s combined workforce.
It is not clear whether Northam’s attack on Gillespie will stick, given the regularity with which companies lay off employees and Gillespie’s indirect connection to the companies’ human resources decisions.
But the broadside is part of Northam’s broader efforts to depict Gillespie, 56, a former Republican National Committee chairman and longtime Beltway power broker, as an out-of-touch D.C. insider as they vie for control of the governor’s mansion this November.
Northam, 58, who is the current lieutenant governor, is betting that he has the advantage in a battle of biographies with Gillespie. Northam is a pediatric neurologist and Army veteran, whose deep heritage in the Old Dominion state is evident in his gentle drawl.
Earlier this month, the Northam campaign debuted a 30-second video, entitled “Whoever,” which compares Northam’s record as a doctor and elected official with that of Gillespie, who the ad dubs a “Washington, D.C. corporate lobbyist.”
“He shows up for whoever pays him,” the ad concludes.
Northam has cast himself as a steady hand at the wheel, a continuation of the relatively popular tenure of Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe. He is running on using Affordable Care Act funds to expand Medicaid, which a Republican legislature has blocked, and offering Virginians a free associate degree in exchange for public service.
Gillespie has promised to unlock economic growth and job creation through tax cuts for “all Virginians.”
Democrats are eager to notch a win in Virginia, one of two states ― the other is New Jersey ― with state-level elections this November. In the 2016 general election, Hillary Clinton defeated Donald Trump by 5 percentage points in Virginia.
Northam had a strong summer of fundraising, bringing in $7.2 million in July and August compared to Gillespie’s $3.7 million. That gives Northam $5.6 million cash on hand compared with Gillespie’s $2.6 million.
But it remains a neck-in-neck race. Northam and Gillespie are tied at 42 percent each, with 12 percent undecided, according to a Suffolk University poll released Thursday. Other polls have shown Northam with a modest lead.
Northam and Gillespie face off in their second debate at Capitol One headquarters in Tysons, Virginia, at 7 pm on Tuesday.