Mulvaney and Heitkamp join K St. heavy hitters at new shop

AP
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A handful of high-powered Washington names are setting up shop on K Street, launching a new lobbying operation with a deep bench of experience alongside dozens of lobbyists who defected from a rival lobbying firm late last year.

The backbone of the new shop, called Actum, will be formed by former partners at Mercury Public Affairs — including Mercury co-founder Kirill Goncharenko — who resigned from the lobbying firm last year over long-simmering disputes with Mercury’s corporate owner Omnicom. The disagreement led to an exodus from Mercury’s California, New York and London offices, many of whom are joining the new firm.

But the launch of the new firm is headlined by the bipartisan duo who will lead Actum’s new Washington office: Mick Mulvaney, the former South Carolina congressman and onetime acting chief of staff to former President Donald Trump, and former North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp.

Though both are now free from any ethics rules barring them from registering to lobby, Actum partner Jennifer Wlach told POLITICO that neither has any plans to do so in the near future. Still, they could be the most-high profile bipartisan pair to hit K Street since former Reps. Joe Crowley and Bill Shuster joined the lobbying firm Squire Patton Boggs in 2019.

In California, where Mercury was one of the most powerful lobbying firms in the state, former Sen. Barbara Boxer will co-chair Actum’s Los Angeles office along with former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Peter Villegas and Cliff Einstein.

Goncharenko, the Mercury co-founder, and Fabian Nuñez, a former California Assembly speaker, will be Actum’s managing partners based in L.A., joined by 10 partners, seven managing directors and four senior vice presidents for 70 staffers in total scattered across six offices in Washington, D.C., London, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Sacramento.

The former Mercury lobbyists are bringing more than 100 clients with them to the new firm, including e-scooter company Bird, the Boys & Girls Club, Charter Communications, Clear, Comcast, FedEx, Lyft, No Kid Hungry and SoCalGas- Sempra Energy.

Actum’s launch is the result of months of behind-the-scenes maneuvering following the exodus from Mercury.

In October, Mercury’s entire staff in California resigned, followed by an exodus in Mercury’s New York and London offices, over long-running disagreements with Omnicom that spilled into the open after the mass departures.

In an excoriating letter of resignation viewed by POLITICO, Nuñez blasted the marketing communications conglomerate for not allowing Mercury to sue the law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom after becoming entangled in former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election meddling.

Former Trump campaign aide Rick Gates admitted to misleading Skadden, which advised Mercury on FARA issues and which told Mercury in 2012 that registering under FARA for Mercury’s work on behalf of a European think tank wasn’t required. Paul Manafort, who later became Trump’s campaign chair, and Gates referred the think tank, which was actually controlled by the former Russia-aligned Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, to Mercury.

In his letter, Nuñez accused Omnicom of refusing to pursue legal action against Skadden “for both business and reputational damage” because the company “cared more about your relationship with Skadden than our business and our reputation.”

Nuñez and Goncharenko both accused Omincom in a lawsuit of attempting to bind the their hands by enforcing non-compete agreements. “Once a great company … is now run by little men who care only about how small they can make the cubicle, how little they can pay their people, what they can get away with and how much they can pay themselves,” Goncharenko wrote in a message announcing his departure to Mercury employees viewed by POLITICO.

Neither Mercury nor Omnicom immediately responded to a request for comment.

But Nuñez appeared ready to turn the page on the old chapter of his life, refusing to discuss the disagreements with Omnicom in an interview.

“We’re building something different with Actum,” he said. “We've created a consultancy that's comprised of the top talent across politics, media, business, government — people who can address client needs across, you know, any sector, any issue.”

Nuñez pointed to the resumés of the team Actum has assembled, arguing, “If you look at the talent of the people we talk to, it speaks to the fact that we're doing something very unique.”

“Whenever you tie yourself to one ideological frame of mind, you really limit yourself,” he added. “That's why you see … someone the likes of Congressman Mick Mulvaney and Senator Barbara Boxer — two people who probably … would have never worked with each other when they were in Congress — but here, they're going to sit down, and they're going to work together to address the solutions that are necessary to resolve a problem that clients that we represent have.”

“What’s different about Actum and particularly appealing is their focus on delivering actual outcome for clients on a truly bipartisan basis — not just saying they are bi-partisan, but actually delivering on senior people," Mulvaney said in a statement. "Having me and Heidi as co-chairs is just one example.”

Mulvaney, a tea party Republican who was a founding member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, filled a number of roles during the Trump administration, including OMB director, acting CFPB director, and Special Envoy for Northern Ireland.

As acting chief of staff, he was at the center of Trump’s first impeachment over withheld military aid for Ukraine, once telling reporters during a White House press briefing that the frozen funds were tied to the president’s demands for various political investigations. He later walked back the comments and asserted his words had been misconstrued.

In a statement of her own, Heitkamp praised the firm's focus "on a deeply talented, deeply experienced and deeply diverse team of specialists," adding that "I’m excited to be with Actum at the very beginning of building a business with true impact."

Heitkamp, a centrist Democrat, lost her 2018 bid for reelection in what was one of the highest-profile races of those midterms. She was initially considered to be a top contender for Agriculture secretary under President Joe Biden, but faced pushback from progressives. And though she never formally registered to lobby, Actum isn’t her first foray into the advocacy world.

Last summer, Heitkamp was named chair of a dark money nonprofit called Save America's Family Enterprises, which launched a six-figure ad campaign aiming to preserve the so-called stepped-up basis loophole, which allows taxpayers to avoid capital gains taxes on inherited investments, in President Joe Biden’s social and climate spending bill. Heitkamp railed against Democratic plans to target the provision in cable appearances, despite months earlier referring to such tax breaks as “one of the biggest scams in the history of forever.”

The package has been on ice for nearly two months after negotiations between the White House and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) fell apart, but eliminating the stepped-up basis was left out of the most recent iterations.

CORRECTION: This report has been updated to correct Mick Mulvaney's role in the Trump administration. He was director of the Office of Management and Budget.

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