Bipartisanship a key to success

When he came to Washington in 1970 as a young attorney, Bob Moss thought he would be working for the Democratic National Committee (DNC) for two years before returning to his little cottage in Pebble Beach and his law practice in Monterey, Calif.

But somewhere along the way, he caught a serious case of “Potomac fever” and stayed. Thirty-five years later, “I am still here and still sick with Potomac fever,” said Moss, who runs his own lobbying practice, Bob Moss Associates.
Kristopher connor
Bob Moss built lasting relationships while working for the House in the 1970s.

Moss, with his understated appearance — from his light-blue shirt, navy-blue jacket, small stature and nearly white hair to his low voice — tends to attribute his successes to “good fortune.” He traces that as a common thread through his career, including the series of events that led him to open his own firm.

Like most in his shoes, he tries to keep a low public profile. Nevertheless, the people he has worked with closely are no strangers to fame. They range from Bobby Kennedy, former DNC Chairman Larry O’Brien, former President Jimmy Carter and Andrew Card, the current White House chief of staff.

Those who know Moss have pointed out that he belongs to a rare species — one said to be declining in this town. He is not an ideologue and has the kind of bipartisan credentials “that you do not see in many lobbyists these days,” said John Lynn, president of the Methanol Institute. Lynn, a Democrat like Moss, has worked with and known him for about 20 years.

His credentials have given him “very strong” ties on both sides of the aisle, said Pat Templeton, a Republican and the former associate administrator for external relations at NASA.

Moss is a “smart guy who continues to cultivate relationships on both sides of the aisle,” said Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.), the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, who has known Moss since they both worked on the House Education and Labor Committee in the 1970s.

Moss tries to stay below the radar even in his current work, and is reluctant to talk about the exact nature of the work he does on behalf of defense giant General Dynamics, the sixth largest U.S. defense company. The programs he and a slew of other lobbyists are fighting to fund include some of the armed services’ major platforms.

At a time when Congress has to respond to the Department of Defense’s ever-increasing bill for its war operations and various technology requirements pulling from several directions, someone like Moss could come in handy, some said. “He is one of the few lobbyists that I know that is strong both in the authorizations and appropriations committees, both in the House and the Senate,” Lynn said. “Most lobbyists work on one, or just in the House or the Senate.”

Moss has been lobbying for appropriations for the Stryker light-armored vehicle, the Abrams tank and the Virginia-class submarine, according to public records. The Army and its contractors have been seeking money for extensive modifications planned for the Abrams tank, which will stay in the service at least until 2020.

In addition, General Dynamics’ Bath Iron Works builds the Navy’s DDG-51 Arleigh-Burke destroyers. This year, the House Armed Services Committee added $2.5 billion for two additional DDG-51 that were not the in president’s budget request, while the Senate counterparts authorized $25 million for the modernization of the destroyers.

The Virginia-class submarine — a contract General Dynamics’ Electric Boat arm shares with Northrop Grumman Newport News — also received substantial authorization funds for 2006. The House authorized $175.8 million for research and development and about $2.4 billion for the production of one submarine. The contract calls for the companies to build one submarine a year between 2003 and 2006 and two in 2007.

For Moss, lobbying is all about building relationships, respecting Congress as an institution as well as its processes. “I learned that the House generally works on personal relationships and relationships of trust,” he said.

Moss had a good number of years in the House of Representatives to build those relationships. In 1972, Moss went from the DNC to work on Capitol Hill as the counsel for the Education and Labor Committee and ended up as counsel to the House of Representatives.

“That was probably my grandest job,” he said. He had “the opportunity to spend most of the day on the floor of the House, dealing with members, responding to their questions about campaign law or House rules or many other things.”

As counsel to a Democratic House and later as general counsel for the House Administration Committee, he made sure to treat “minority members and staff with respect.” That is a point that Moss likes to drive home. “I think that probably helps me now, because we always treated people fairly even though we had the power to do ultimately as we wanted to,” he said.

“There seems to be a more partisan attitude in the House, and politics aren’t quite as gentle as they used to be, or respectful,” he said.

At the end of the ’70s, Moss left the House to go into the Carter administration, where he became the acting assistant secretary of the treasury for intergovernmental relations.

On the day of President Reagan’s inauguration, Moss quit, even though he had been asked to stay on longer. After a stint as counsel for less than a year in the House again, Moss decided to “go downtown.”

“I thought I had done what I could do in the House and wanted to try my hand at the lobbying side,” he said. “Obviously you can make more money.”

As vice president for government affairs for Coastal Corp., a Houston-based energy company, Moss got heavily involved in fundraising for political candidates. Coastal, like similar energy and power concerns, had a large political action committee. “My wife and I would have a number of dinners at my home, and we would have people come and contribute,” he recalled. “That was not a widely perceived activity back in the early and mid-1980s: the small-dinner concept.” The Mosses raised money for about 80 politicians, among them some current Republican senators.  Moss’s wife, Kate, also is an accomplished lobbyist in town.

In 1994, when Card became president of the American Automobile Manufacturers Association — a trade group representing Ford, General Motors and Chrysler — he sought out Moss as his Democratic counterpart. For five years, Moss ran the association’s international, federal and state government-affairs shop. But when Mercedes-Benz bought out Chrysler, both Card and Moss found themselves jobless because the two remaining members disbanded the association.

That is when Moss founded his own lobbying practice. As Card went on to become General Motors vice president of government relations, he offered Moss a job as outside counsel. “At the same time, the American Chemistry Council decided to hire me as an outside counsel,” he said, adding, “I decided at that point that I had a business.”

By representing GM, Moss got into defense lobbying. In 1999, the company still ran a subsidiary called General Motors Defense. GM was teamed up with General Dynamics to build the Stryker vehicle. When GM sold its defense business to General Dynamics, Moss ended up representing the defense giant for the Stryker vehicle. “As you’ll see, the thread that runs through most of my career in Washington — everything was very carefully planned out beforehand,” he deadpanned.

His work for General Dynamics landed him other contracts with defense companies such as Opticomp, a small business based in Nevada that develops laser technology for satellite communications and unmanned aerial vehicles. “The work I do for them is appropriations work. They have several programs going on right now that are very promising,” he said. Another company he represents is Virginia-based Trase, which researches and develops pilot ejection seats.

In Moss’s lobbying book, the biggest “do not” is being dishonest with people: “[Former House] Speaker [Tip] O’Neill [D-Mass.] always said to me, ‘Sometimes the members want you to tell them what they want to hear. Do not ever tell them what they want to hear; you always tell them what the right way is.’”