News

Abramoff’s former firm sets up shop in Sacramento

The former lobbying firm of Jack Abramoff, the Washington insider who
recently pleaded guilty to multiple felony charges of fraud, bribery and tax
evasion, is coming to Sacramento.

Greenberg Traurig, which severed ties with Abramoff in early 2004, has
merged with Livingston & Mattesich, the Sacramento-based government affairs
firm that counts State Farm Insurance Companies, Novartis Pharmaceuticals,
and Miller Brewing Co. among its biggest clients.

Gene Livingston, who founded his 15-person Sacramento government-lobbying
firm Livingston & Mattesich in 1982, and was named one of 10 most “powerful
lawyer-lobbyists in Sacramento” in 1998, says his merger with Greenberg
Traurig was a “business decision.” The move transforms the powerful
Sacramento firm into a company with tremendous resources. Greenberg Traurig
is comprised of some 1,400 lawyers, 17 corporate offices, and hundreds of
“clients that do business in California.”

But the timing of the Ambramoff scandal and the joining of companies could
hardly be described as ideal for business.

He assures his clients that, “Livingston & Mattesich had an impeccable
reputation for integrity and we are still the same people.” He quickly notes
that he has not lost any business as a result of the merger.

Livingston & Mattesich officially joined Greenberg Traurig last October, but
filings on January 12th with the secretary of state’s office officially
shifted clients from the old firm to the new. But many of the clients have
personal relationships with lobbyists at the old firm, who will continue to
handle accounts after the merger.

“Some clients have asked for additional information about the firm’s role
with Abramoff,” says Livingston.

One of the biggest among those clients, State Farm Insurance Companies,
voiced confidence in Livingston’s new firm.

“We have had a longstanding relationship with Livingston & Mattesich and
have developed a close bond with them and our interest is with the people
and not the name of the firm,” says Bill Sirola a spokesman, State Farm
Insurance Companies, saying the company had no intent to change lobbyists.

This is not the first inroad Greenberg Traurig has made in California.
The firm already operates offices in Orange County, Los Angeles and Silicon
Valley. Now they will add the state’s eleventh largest lobbying firm to the
list, according to total billings filled last session.

In the days following Abramoff’s plea bargain with federal prosecutors,
sixty-five different members of the 109th Congress–and President Bush–all
rushed to return tainted donations from Abramoff to charity. Their giving
totaled some $420,000.

Greenberg Traurig has worked especially hard to distance itself from the man
who helped put the firm on the political map.

Following Abramoff’s plea, the company issued a terse statement: “Almost two
years ago, Jack Abramoff revealed to the firm conduct we found unacceptable.
The firm demanded and obtained Mr. Abramoff’s immediate resignation. This
week’s developments validate that action.”

After cutting Abramoff loose in early 2004, they hired an internal
investigator to delve into their former employee’s affairs. Company
executives cooperated with prosecutors, negotiated settlements with Abramoff
victims, and even earned the praise of Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, for
assisting in the overall investigation.

Abramoff’s recent plea agreement goes so far as to cast the firm as an
oblivious victim of their former employee’s fraudulent schemes, not a
knowing accomplice.

Still, the long shadow of what has become the biggest bribery scandal in
Washington in decades continues to surround the firm.

Founded in 1967, the firm has been politically active for decades. Greenberg
Traurig lawyers represented George W. Bush in the weeks following the
controversial 2000 election– which was prior to Abramoff’s arrival.
But it was Abramoff, who joined Greenberg Traurig in 2000, who was the
“rainmaker” who helped the firm’s lobbying receipts skyrocket from 35th to
third among D.C. lobbying firms, according to the National Journal. He
claimed close relationships with much of the congressional leadership,
particularly with then-Majority Leader Tom DeLay, and the White House,
leveraging those relationships for clients.

And though the company has won kudos from some of Abramoff’s strongest
Congressional critics, at least one lawsuit, filed by the Lousiana
Coushattas, an Indian gaming tribe, is still pending against the firm.
The firm also has connections to CaIifornia Republican Congressman John
Doolittle. Doolittle’s former chief of staff once worked for Abramoff and
reportedly served as an intermediary in the hiring of Doolittle’s wife’s
firm, Sierra Dominion Financial Solutions Inc., by Greenberg Traurig. Julie
Doolittle’s firm received a subpoena last year from the grand jury
investigating Abramoff.

Doolittle’s spokespeople have repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, or any
connection between the hiring of his wife and his duties as a congressman.
Doolittle is one of only a few members of Congress who has refused to return
any Abramoff donations, saying through representatives that doing so would
only give the appearance of wrongdoing.

Back in Sacramento, Livingston isn’t expecting the Abramoff scandal to
quietly scandal to quietly whither away.

“I think that Abramoff is going to be in the news until the November
elections,” he says.

But he is taking it all in stride.

And yes, Livingston admits, “there have been a few jokes made by fellow
lobbyists here in Sacramento.”


Support for Capitol Weekly is Provided by: