When Pete Lawson and Chris Long sat down for lunch at D.C.’s Spezie in 2001, neither suspected that they would both be jobless in a matter of months.
Lawson was a lobbyist for Arthur Andersen, then the most prestigious of the Big Five accounting firms. Long lobbied for Enron, the seventh largest company in the country at the time and a major player on energy policy.
Munching on a pasta dish, Lawson was surprised to hear that Enron was one of Andersen’s biggest clients. “In that case, lunch is on me!” he joked.
Soon much of America would know that Enron was a major auditing client of Andersen. Both companies would become embroiled in an epic accounting scandal, the first in a wave of revelations of corporate skullduggery that took place during the boom market of the late ’90s. Enron and fellow Andersen client WorldCom would go bankrupt. Chief executives would be hauled before Congress. Andersen would be indicted. Tens of thousands of people would be laid off.
And finally, when the smoke cleared, everyone who wasn’t looking at an indictment would be looking for a job, including the lobbyists.
In the three years since news of the scandals broke, many of the lobbyists who represented Andersen, Enron and WorldCom on the Hill have recovered remarkably well. Despite having been the face and voice of their former employer, they reinvented themselves, shed their association with their old companies and found their way back into the top echelons in their profession.
Mark Peterson could well be called the poster child for that recovery. Peterson was Andersen’s chief lobbyist when the scandal broke. Yesterday, he started as chief lobbyist for the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, the accounting profession’s principal lobbying group.
“I think it’s a testament to Mark and the fact that he still has his relationships on the Hill and is still well-regarded by people in the profession,” said Jeff Peck, a former Andersen lobbyist. Peck is now a principal at well-known lobby shop Johnson Madigan Peck Boland & Stewart.
“Any time you’re above the fold in The Wall Street Journal for that amount of time, it can’t be good,” Peterson said. “One could be worried about it having an effect [on your career], but I just didn’t. … I didn’t pick up any of the residue that was left on the rest of us.”
From Enron’s lobbying team, Linda Robertson, the former head of the Washington office, is now chief of government, community and public affairs at Johns Hopkins University, a post in which she oversees all lobbying and public relations for the university. She did not return several calls from The Hill.
John Shelk, one of Robertson’s top deputies, is the chief lobbyist at the American Mining Association. Another Enron lobbyist, Larry Decker, now lobbies for the American Red Cross, while Carin Nersesian is a legislative assistant for Rep. Jon Porter (R-Nev.). Long is a principal at newly formed lobbying firm Bockorny Petrizzo.
Much of WorldCom’s lobbying team is still with the company, which is now known as MCI, although some have moved on to other top positions. Clint Robinson now heads congressional and intergovernmental affairs for the General Services Administration. A press release announcing his appointment left out any mention of his years at WorldCom, focusing instead on his posts before and after his stint at the telecom company.
Former WorldCom lobbyist Brad Stillman has become chief operating officer of the American College of Gastroenterology. WorldCom’s former chief lobbyist, Rich Fruchterman, has started his own consulting firm.
From a top job to jobless
The news came down suddenly from Enron’s top management: Nearly the whole government-affairs shop would be laid off immediately. The company was strapped for cash and needed to downsize drastically. It was December 2001, just weeks after the first signs of trouble had emerged.
“We didn’t have our r