Burson-Marsteller, the Colombian Government and Hillary Clinton's Presidential Campaign

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U.S. Department of Justice filings disclose that in March 2007 B-M signed a $300,000, one-year contract with the Colombian Embassy. In March 2007 the Managing Director of Burson-Marsteller's Washington Region Office and Chairman of its Issues & Advocacy Practice, Robert Tappan, signed an agreement with the government of Colombia. In mid-April 2007 the agreement was filed with the U.S. Department of Justice and subsequently became a public document. In it B-M undertook to:

"Provide ongoing strategic communications counsel to the Ambassador and key Embassy officials regarding the Free Trade Agreement and Plan Colombia; develope [sic] key messages, talking points and briefing materials regrading strategic objectives; facilitate meetings in Washington D.C. for the Ambassador; and co-ordinate media interviews and public events with relevant news media in Washington D.C. on behalf of the Embassy." [1]

It also stated that B-M would:

"provide advice and communications counsel to the Ambassador and Embassy staff. Drave [sic] and review materials related to issues of interest to the Embassy".[2]

Penn & the Clinton Campaign

On April 4, 2008 the Wall Street Journal reported that Penn had "met with Colombia's ambassador to the U.S. on Monday to discuss a bilateral free-trade agreement, a pact the presidential candidate (Clinton) opposes." Burson-Marsteller "has a contract with the South American nation to promote congressional approval of the trade deal." A spokeswoman for the Colombian embassy in Washington, Sandra Ocampo Kohn, stated that Burson-Marsteller, along with the Glover Park Group and Johnson, Madigan Peck, Boland & Stewart, had been contracted in 2007 to lobby for Colombia on behalf of a bi-lateral trade deal.[3]

In a statement, Penn later apologized: "The meeting was an error in judgment that will not be repeated, and I am sorry for it. The senator’s well-known opposition to this trade deal is clear and was not discussed.[4] Penn may have thought his statement would mollify the Clinton campaign, but ultimately it did neither.

Colombia took offence at Penn's statement that it "was an error in judgment" to meet with the Colombian ambassador in Washington D.C. "The Colombian government considers this a lack of respect to Colombians, and finds this response unacceptable," the embassy stated in a media[5]

The escalating controversy resulted in a Clinton campaign spokeswoman, Maggie Williams, announcing that Penn was no longer "chief strategist" but would still be retained for his polling advice. "After the events of the last few days, Mark Penn has asked to give up his role as Chief Strategist of the Clinton Campaign; Mark, and Penn, Schoen and Berland Associates, Inc. will continue to provide polling and advice to the campaign. Geoff Garin and Howard Wolfson will coordinate the campaign's strategic message team going forward," the statement said.[6]

Articles and Resources


  1. Burson-Marsteller, Exhibit A: Agreement with Embassy of Colombia, Washington, April 18, 2007, page 3.
  2. Burson-Marsteller, Exhibit A: Agreement with Embassy of Colombia, Washington, April 18, 2007, page 4.
  3. Susan Davis, Clinton Aide Met on Trade Deal: Penn Held Talks On Colombia Pact Opposed by Senator", Wall Street Journal, April 4, 2008; Page A3.
  4. John M. Broder, "Clinton Strategist Lobbied for Trade Pact She Opposes", New York Times, April 5, 2008.
  5. "Release on Mark Penn’s Termination by Colombian Government", Time, April 5, 2008.
  6. "Statement from Maggie Williams", Hilliary Clinton for President, April 6, 2008.

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