Willistonian learns lobbying from the pros (Aug. 28, 2008)

Aug. 28, 2008
By Tim Simard
Observer staff

“Live, learn and intern.”

That’s the motto of The Fund for American Studies — a Washington, D.C.-based education organization. Williston resident and college student Chris Fraser put that statement to the test recently as part of a summer-long internship in Washington, D.C. In the span of a few months, Fraser lived the life of a Washington insider, hobnobbing with politicians and lobbyists, all the while taking college courses at Georgetown University and living on campus.


          Contributed photo
Chris Fraser (right) stands with the family of Allison Giles, an associate at lobbying firm Quinn Gillespie and Associates, on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C. Fraser interned for Quinn Gillespie and Associates as part of a summer-long program in the nation’s capital.


“It was an experience,” Fraser said with a smile during an interview last week with the Observer.

Fraser said his goal in the internship was to gain experience in Washington and understand its inner workings.

“How do things in the Capitol work and, more importantly, why do they work — that’s what I wanted to see,” Fraser said.

Fraser, who is entering his senior year at Bentley College in Massachusetts, was chosen for a spot in the Institute of Business and Government Affairs, or IBGA, a program offered through The Fund for American Studies. He was among 62 college-aged students who were part of the summer-long IBGA program, which places individuals in government and government-associated lobbying firms.

Overall, 366 students from around the world participate in the Fund’s intern programs, said Jonathan Tilley, coordinator for the IBGA program.

“I was the only one from Vermont, which was pretty cool,” Fraser said.

According to Tilley, other areas of study that draw interns include the Institute of Comparative and Economical Systems, the Institute of Political Journalism and the Institute on Philanthropy. The programs allow students to intern in various aspects of Washington, including for representatives, political news publications, lobbying firms and nonprofit organizations.

Tilley said the program allows students to experience many levels of the nation’s Capitol.

“We provide the interns the experience they need,” Tilley said. “We get a lot of sharp students down here.”

Life in D.C.

Fraser took two courses — Powers and Values; and Business, Government and Policy — at Georgetown University, which works with The Fund for American Studies. Fraser majors in public policy at Bentley, and the courses and unpaid internship earned him credit toward his degree, he said.

For the intern portion of the summer, Fraser worked with the firm Quinn Gillespie and Associates, a bipartisan public affairs firm that lobbies for clients on both sides of the political spectrum. The firm was started by Jack Quinn, Democrat and former aid to President Bill Clinton, and by Ed Gillespie, former Republican National Committee Chairman and current counselor to President George W. Bush.

Quinn Gillespie and Associates’ clients include Microsoft, Safeway, Bank of America, and Verizon, as well as several nonprofit organizations. Fraser said each client gets a Democrat and Republican representative to lobby Congress on its behalf.

Fraser said he was initially unsure of interning for a lobbying firm, since lobbying is not seen in the most favorable light by many people. But Fraser said hard-working and fair lobbyists are well respected in Washington. Lobbying equals advocacy, he said.

“I’ve learned to think of (lobbying) as a more noble profession than I used to,” Fraser said.

As an intern for Quinn Gillespie and Associates, Fraser said he “learned to do everything.” Mostly, he covered committee hearings for various clients to gauge responses to legislation. Fraser said he sat in many meetings for the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee, which claims Vermont Independent Bernie Sanders as a member, as well as New York Democrat Hillary Clinton and the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama.

It was Fraser’s job to listen and take notes on legislation that directly affected certain Quinn Gillespie clients. He would then send a report to the client about what representatives said in regards to certain legislation.

Fraser said while many high-profile senators are members of the committee, only Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut, a former Democratic presidential contender, was on hand most of the time to hear the legislation.

“Unfortunately, a lot of major players weren’t there because it was campaign season,” Fraser said.

But the hearings still gave Fraser firsthand experience about how Washington works and what goes into a bill becoming law.

Liz McCurtain, operations associate for Quinn Gillespie and Associates, said the firm is always appreciative of its hard-working interns. She said Fraser was “outstanding” and became good friends with many of the associates. She added that Fraser’s Washington work ethic paid off for him.

“If you work hard and show that you take initiatives, it’ll be appreciated by all,” McCurtain said.

The experience

Fraser said his experience in Washington didn’t necessarily give him a cynical outlook on the Capitol, but more a guarded respect.

“D.C. can change you in ways you might not necessarily want to be changed,” Fraser said. “If you’re young and impressionable, it could eat you up.”

Fraser describes his political ideology as a “Vermont moderate,” which he said Washington insiders said was really “flaming liberal.” He said the state’s senators, Sanders and Democrat Patrick Leahy, are seen as instigators in some circles and uttering their names was akin to using swear words.

And while the inside politics of Washington sometimes surprised and amused him, Fraser said the experience was incredibly eye opening and a job in the Capitol would be something he would consider after college, but not right away.

“You start to see the human side of legislation down there,” he said. “No matter the side of the (political) aisle (lawmakers) are on, they’re there mostly to do some good.”