How things work, cont. **


Every so often, the mail brings something that lets L.A. Observed give a glimpse behind the scenes of how things really get done. This installment is an email from Joe Kessler, president of PR firm Weber Shandwick California in Century City, asking the likes of former ambassador and Democratic National Committee chair Chuck Manatt for a donation to the reelection campaign of his onetime mentor, Rep. Edward Markey of Massachusetts. [* 11:45 a.m. update: PR Week reports today that Kessler happens to be resigning to pursue something "more entrepreneurial," but will consult indefinitely for Weber Shandwick. ** Also: Kessler responds after the jump].

Markey, a Democrat, is coming to L.A. later this month for an event at the home of Haim and Cheryl Saban.

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

Apologies in advance for the mass email and/or for any offense to your political ideology...but, for me, it is a seminal period in American policy and politics, and I am doing what I can to help influence the process.

My passion for it was ignited back in 1980 when I went to work as an intern on Capitol Hill in the office of Congressman Edward Markey of Massachusetts. The chance to work with him every day for several months is an experience from which I've drawn repeatedly over my career. In fact, in many ways, it was Ed Markey who started it all for me by recommending to one of his congressional allies, Rep. Ted Weiss of New York, that Ted hire me to be his press secretary. I got the job largely on the strength of Ed's recommendation, and my 22-year career in public relations ensued.

Obviously, for that act of confidence and kindness, I am eternally grateful to Ed Markey. But, more importantly, I got to see him go to work every day. And what I saw was a man of unparalleled vibrancy, unbridled commitment and dedication to fighting for what he believed in. As I've followed Ed's career over the years, I've watched him bring this dynamism to the national stage as one of the senior Democrats in Congress and its powerful Energy and Commerce Committee. He has never been prisoner to his politics...he is his own man and, regardless of his aspirations or the potential fallout, he has continually fought for more and better jobs, a cleaner environment and affordable healthcare, and against the spread of nuclear weapons. More recently, he has been a leader in defining a unilateral policy on Iraq that protects us from acts of terrorism.

So, why does this matter? Because as Dean of the Massachusetts Congressional Delegation and State Chairman of the Kerry for President Campaign, political opponents of Ed's are gunning for his seat this year. In addition, with the possibility of an open Senate seat in Massachusetts should Senator Kerry be elected president, Ed would be the leading candidate to replace him. And, make no mistake, that seat could easily determine control of the US Senate, given the number of very close races predicted for this election year.

It happens that Congressman Markey will be visiting LA on Monday, June 28th, for a private reception benefiting his campaign at the home of Cheryl and Haim Saban, at 6:00 PM. I will be there, and I hope that you will consider attending as well to meet an extraordinary man who has meant so much to me. Guests are being asked to contribute $1,000, and up to $4,000 (the legal limit for an individual) to be a Co-Host. The invitation and RSVP form is attached, with instructions.

All my best,

Joe Kessler

Kessler's only previous mention at L.A. Observed was as a critic of political activity by rival PR firm Fleishman-Hillard.

** Kessler responds:

I'd like to clarify the differences between my email and the activities alleged to have taken place between Fleishman and the city, since there is an implication in your piece that my actions are somehow contradictory.

First of all, since Rep. Markey hails from a district in Massachusetts, there is virtually no way he can directly influence the business activities of anyone attending the reception for him in LA. People are going to attend because they admire the man and/or because they believe in what he represents, not because they can get anything out of this for themselves. I myself am doing this simply to return a favor to someone who helped me and in whom I have great confidence as a national leader. There can be no benefit for me or my employer -- especially since, as you know, I have already resigned my position as president of Weber Shandwick California and am leaving the company in July.

Second, your assertion that I "criticized Fleishman's political activity," is wrong. What I said was: "I think PR firms should be guided by a set of principles that would render any questions about their ethical foundations groundless." I neither mentioned Fleishman by name nor insinuated that they did anything wrong. PR agency leaders, like other business executives, have been involved personally in campaigns since the inception of the industry. My comment merely suggested that agencies and their leaders should be entirely transparent and beyond reproach when it comes to involvement in political campaigns and causes that directly affect the business they conduct. In that context, I would think that my dissemination of this invitation to Rep. Markey's reception has the firmest of ethical foundations.

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