It’s time for Mark Penn to take off one of his hats. The pollster should devote full energies to either salvaging Hillary Clinton’s campaign or returning to corporate life at Burson-Marsteller.
The Wall Street Journal today dealt a severe blow to the Clinton presidential campaign with a report that Penn huddled with Colombian Ambassador Alvaro Uribe in D.C. on March 30. Colombia ranks as one of B-M’s biggest foreign clients, an account worth $300K a-year, so it’s logical for Penn to talk things over with Uribe. B-M’s work for Columbia involves pushing for a Free Trade Agreement and maintaining support for “Plan Columbia,” the anti-narcotics campaign.
The FTA is the major rub. Clinton won the Ohio primary based on opposition to more FTAs, and the perception that Barack Obama is “soft” on trade. That position plays well in an industrial stake like Pennsylvania, the next do-or-die contest for Clinton.
A spokesperson for Colombia’s Embassy told the WSJ he wasn’t sure if Penn met Uribe as a rep for Clinton or B-M. Howard Wolfson, Clinton’s communications director, said Penn was not there on Clinton’s behalf, and referred calls to B-M. The PR shop did not return WSJ's calls or emails.
This is the second big dust-up about Penn. He drew fire from labor groups last June for B-M’s anti-union campaign for Cintas. Penn rode out that storm, saying the work occurred before he took the helm. Penn, whose father was a labor organizer, also said he would never do any anti-labor work “as a matter of conscience.”
Clinton was riding high in the polls when the labor issue arose. Times are much different today. The New York Senator is now a long shot in the Democratic race.
The perception that the campaign’s top strategic advisor has another conflict of interest problem is something the Clinton Camp definitely does not need.