Meet Ed Gillespie: The Ex-Bush Operative And Former Tobacco Lobbyist Running For Senate

Ed Gillespie with President George W. Bush CREDIT: AP PHOTO/RON EDMONDS
Ed Gillespie with President George W. Bush CREDIT: AP PHOTO/RON EDMONDS

Former Washington lobbyist and long-time Republican political operative Ed Gillespie kicks off his campaign Thursday for U.S. Senate in Virginia. If nominated by his party, he would face incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Warner, who defeated fellow former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore (R) by a 65 to 34 landslide in 2008.

A ThinkProgress review of Gillespie’s long career as a registered lobbyist, House Republican leadership aide, Republican National Committee, Republican State Leadership Committee, and Republican Party of Virginia Chairman, America Crossroads co-founder, and George W. Bush adviser reveals that he has taken a number of controversial and contradictory positions and actions:

Lobbied for controversial industries

As a lobbyist in the 1990s with Policy Impact Communications and Barbour Griffith & Rogers, Gillespie represented the tobacco industry in its fight for a settlement that would give companies immunity from civil liability. After he co-founded Quinn Gillespie in 2000, his firm received $700,000 to lobby on behalf of Enron on issues including the California energy crisis it helped cause. Gillespie’s access in the Bush administration helped the company push for favorable energy policies and tax breaks, before the company’s epic collapse. He has also lobbied for the American Petroleum Industry in support of a 2005 pro-industry energy bill, the American Financial Services Association in support of the 1999 Bankruptcy Reform Act which some say helped spur the 2009 economic meltdown, and the Artisan Farmers Association — the trade association for the foie gras industry — opposing “animal welfare” regulations that would restrict force-feeding of ducks and geese.

Supported an individual health care mandate — then opposed it

In May of 2007, a group of corporate executives formed a Coalition to Advance Healthcare Reform. The group quickly hired Gillespie and his firm to lobby on their agenda, which included “ensuring every American has affordable healthcare” by providing “assistance for low-income individuals” but mandating that everyone “be required to carry health insurance.” When, after becoming a Mitt Romney campaign adviser in 2012, Gillespie was asked about the contradiction between his and Romney’s opposition to the Affordable Care Act and his earlier work for a group backing an individual mandate, Gillespie claimed that he had “not advocated for a federal individual mandate.” Gillespie stopped lobbying for the coalition — and everyone else — when he joined the Bush White House that June. But he has embraced the notion of Medicaid and other types of government subsudies and endorsed the concept of a healthcare exchange. Still, Gillespie has embraced a full repeal of Obamacare, claiming that “the enactment of the Obama healthcare bill with its punitive mandates” would have a “job-killing impact.”

Enthusiastically backed the Iraq War based on false premises

In July 2003, Gillespie made the case for George W. Bush’s decision to launch a war in Iraq at his party’s summer meeting:

GILLESPIE: British Intelligence stands by their assessment that the Iraqis sought to purchase uranium from Niger. That’s a fact today, and it was a fact when the President said it 7 months ago. The Democrats are increasingly coalescing behind this position: When presented with universally agreed upon evidence that a brutal dictator with a history of using WMD against his own people and an avowed hatred of the United States is developing a program of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons, our policy is to simply hope for the best. That is a naïve proposition. We can fight the war against terror in Baghdad and Kabul, or Boston and Kansas City. If we don’t deal with terrorism, we will deal with its aftermath. The President is right. They are wrong. And this is a debate they cannot win!

The Center for Public Integrity documented the 935 false statements made by the Bush administration in the lead-up the Iraq War. The report noted that the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research had earlier deemed the claim about Niger and yellow cake uranium “highly dubious” and that in 2006 Senate Select Committee on Intelligence concluded postwar findings did not support the claim. And no weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq, despite the administration’s assurances and dogged efforts to find them. Even in 2006, Gillespie continued to defend the war, arguing that establishing a “free and stable Iraq” over “those vast oil resources” was “good for the American people.” And, of course, the lengthy wars did nothing to prevent the tragic bombing in Boston in April.

Advocated for Bush’s Social Security privatization scheme

In 2005, President George W. Bush proposed a plan to privatize the Social Security system, eliminating its guarantee of security to millions of American seniors and replacing it with a series of private investment accounts. With opposition from senior groups and Congressional Democrats, as well as disagreements with Congressional Republicans on approach, the proposal did not become law. Despite its failure, Bush cited the effort as the biggest domestic policy achievement of his presidency. Between 2007 and 2009, the stock market lost more than half of its value — a stark reminder of the risks of this approach. But this past April, Gillespie wrote that had the privatization scheme passed, “it’s fair to argue that our country and the Republican party would be in much better shape today.”

Criticized unregulated outside political groups — then co-founded Crossroads GPS

In 2004, Gillespie blasted outside spending groups operating in opposition to Bush’s re-election: “That’s money that’s not going to be reported to the Federal Election Commission, it’s not going to be transparent,” like the RNC and Bush campaign’s, “and I think it’s a campaign finance scandal in the making.” In a 2007 interview, while noting that he did not believe there was too much money in politics, complained that outside groups are not transparent or sufficiently restricted. “We have allowed these 527s [political committees] to run wild, unfettered, unregulated, not subject to the same rules and regulations as the national parties. And I think that’s been incredibly unhealthy,” adding that they “should be subject to the same rules, at least, as the political parties are, if not the individual campaigns themselves.”


Though he once wrote that “transparency is critical to the process of campaign financing and lobbying activities,” in 2010, Gillespie joined with Karl Rove to co-found American Crossroads (a 527 “super PAC”) and Crossroads GPS (an even-less-transparent “social welfare” group which refuses to disclosure its donors). He called the groups “the gold standard” and helped raise millions for their attack ad campaigns. The groups combined to spend more than $176 million in support of 2012 Republican candidates — the most of any outside group. Gillespie took a leave of absence from Crossroads during the campaign to work on the Romney campaign, while his old group mounted a nine-figure attack on President Obama.

Embraced anti-LGBT and abstinence-only policies

As RNC chairman, Gillespie was a full-throated supporter of a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. He criticized Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) for not voting for the unconstitutional Defense of Marriage Act and told African American pastors that the Republican Party believes marriage “is the legal union of one man and one woman,” so the nation “must pursue whatever policy is necessary to protect this institution, including a Federal Marriage Amendment to the United States Constitution.” He endorsed using marriage as a campaign issue in 2012 and observed in 2013, “I don’t think you would ever see the Republican Party platform say we’re in favor of same sex marriage.” Still, Gillespie has said that it is unfair to call the GOP anti-LGBT because while most Republicans support marriage inequality, many “are also for the benefits of marriage in the legal system that are afforded protections like, for example, hospital visitation rights or survivorship benefits.”

During the Bush years, he supported the White House’s failed abstinence-only approach to sexual education. Complaining that “government spends $12 on safe sex and contraceptives for every $1 spent on abstinence,” he said that Bush was “working to see that they not only reauthorize abstinence programs, but that more funding be made available for these very necessary programs.”

Gillespie has embraced some of the most extremist fringe elements of the Republican Party, calling the Tea Party “a huge asset to Republicans,” praising former Gov. Sarah Palin as someone with “a lot of common sense,” donating to Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II’s unsuccessful 2013 gubernatorial campaign and to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz 2012 Senate candidacy, and backing Pastor E.W. Jackson Sr.’s unsuccessful campaign for Virginia Lt. Governor.


Now, as Gillespie gears up for his first campaign of his own, he has moved quickly to downplay the few moderate positions he’s taken in the past. A video of his wholehearted 2013 endorsement of the bipartisan Senate comprehensive immigration reform bill was scrubbed from his website.