Top Consulting Firm Emerges In Early Hillary Clinton Efforts

About once a month, the pro-Clinton groups everyone knows — Ready for Hillary, Priorities USA, and Correct the Record — meet to compare notes. A fourth group is there, too: Dewey Square.

Three groups in Washington have made it their business to put Hillary Clinton back in the White House: Priorities USA, Correct the Record, and Ready for Hillary. Every month or so, players from each get together. But whenever they gather for the so-called "working group" meetings, there's a fourth partner at the table.

That's the Dewey Square Group, a guarded, well-connected consulting firm that has quietly emerged at the heart of the quasi-official campaign-in-waiting. They are, said one top Democrat, getting the structural details of a campaign "teed up and ready when the days comes" — a characterization Dewey Square denies.

Three top strategists from the group, a one-stop-shop public affairs firm staffed with veteran Democrats, have in varying combinations regularly attended the pro-Clinton meetings, according to five people familiar with the gatherings.

Most of the operatives in attendance help run the three pro-Clinton organizations: Ready for Hillary, a volunteer-driven group, has built a list of Hillary supporters three million people long; Correct the Record, a research-driven effort, defends Clinton in the press; and Priorities USA, a big-money super PAC, plans to spend millions of dollars in television ads to clear a path to Election Day.

Buffy Wicks, the executive director of Priorities USA, has for the last six months called the officials from the groups together at her M Street offices. The agenda rarely varies. The strategists gather to check in, to trade ideas, and discuss challenges. It's an early, coordinated machine — an outside, independent effort not attached to Clinton or her direct staff. And the players are in regular contact about prep for the 2016 campaign they hope Clinton will pursue.

While the groups go around the room and give updates on their progress, operatives from Dewey Square are also at the table, listening intently. The attendees from the firm include Michael Whouley, a seasoned organizer who ran Bill Clinton's field operation in 1992; Charlie Baker, one of the firm's founding partners; and Minyon Moore, a longtime adviser to both Clintons.

Last summer, officials from the same Boston-based firm — including Whouley; Baker; and Jill Alper, another Dewey Square strategist — put together a presentation for Clinton about running for president. The meeting, first reported by Politico, took place at Clinton's Whitehaven Street home in Washington.

In more than 15 interviews about Dewey Square this month, people close to Clinton, and to the groups working on her behalf, described the firm's strategists as central to the pre-2016 efforts — not by way of official status, sources said, but because of their breadth of experience and long ties to the former first family.

Dewey Square's calling card is discretion. The officials there rarely see their names in print, and a spokesperson for the firm dismissed the premise that Whouley, Baker, and Moore should be singled out. The Democrats contacted for this article declined to speak for attribution about the group's involvement.

Ginny Terzano, the spokesperson for Dewey Square, would not discuss the specifics of the meetings, but pointed out that one of the firm's officials, Baker, is also on the board of Priorities USA. Early this year, the super PAC refashioned itself as a pro-Clinton effort after spending millions in 2012 to put some of the most cutting and effective television ads on the air against Republican Mitt Romney.

"Dewey Square Group principals attend and participate in a variety of political meetings with Priorities USA and other organizations because of their official role and their known expertise in waging successful campaigns," Terzano said.

When asked about the function of the Dewey Square officials in the pro-Clinton working group meetings, Terzano said, "their role is like everyone else's role — to discuss winning elections and the steps needed to get there."

One person familiar with the gatherings said the firm's strategists don't say much about their own work, but act as informal advisers, posing questions to the other organizations. Terzano flatly dismissed the idea that Dewey Square officials run the meetings, calling the description "inaccurate." Wicks, the executive director of Priorities, convenes the meetings but does not chair them, sources said.

There have been about six meetings so far. They take place at the Priorities USA offices, housed within the Messina Group, the eponymous consulting firm whose founder Jim Messina ran President Obama's reelection campaign. Messina, who has not attended every meeting, also serves as co-chair of Priorities USA.

Asked if Dewey Square officials have hosted further meetings with Clinton herself, Terzano said, "As noted already, we never discuss private meetings."

In the months since the presentation at Clinton's Whitehaven home, word spread in Washington that Dewey Square officials were "laying down a structure if a campaign were to happen," as one Democratic operative put it. Another said the firm's officials were getting prep work "teed up and ready when the day comes."

Terzano said the group is not involved in any such efforts. When asked whether the firm's officials have been involved in plans for a possible campaign, including work related to staffing, financials, or state strategy, Terzano said, "No."

As for the working group gatherings, Terzano said, "We never discuss private meetings, but they are political experts like the rest of the people involved in the four organizations you named," she added, referring to Ready for Hillary, Correct the Record, Priorities USA, and a fourth group, EMILY's List, a Washington nonprofit that recruits and helps elect pro-choice women to office.

EMILY's List also maintains a presence in the working group meetings, sources said, though the nonprofit is not as prominent a stakeholder as the others. Stephanie Schriock, the organization's president, also serves on the board of Priorities USA. She is joined in that role by Dewey Square's Charlie Baker.

The pair's presence on the Priorities USA board is somewhat typical of the Clinton effort. Most players are linked in some official capacity, or by past experience.

The effect can be overwhelming. For example, David Brock, the founder of Correct the Record, is also a board member of Priorities USA — as is Allida Black, the chair of Ready for Hillary. Alper, one of the Dewey Square officials who gave the presentation to Clinton last summer, is a longtime adviser to Jennifer Granholm, the former Michigan governor who now co-chairs Priorities USA.

And Whouley, the veteran field organizer, has been connected to Clinton circles for decades. He ran Bill's field operation in 1992, helped organize the reelection campaign in 1996, managed Vice President Al Gore's presidential race in 2000, and was credited with Hillary Clinton's primary win in New Hampshire in 2008. John Kerry once dubbed him "the magical Michael Whouley."

The ties among the operatives are on frequent display. This spring, when Minyon Moore, the Dewey Square official closest to Hillary Clinton, was connected in a Washington Post report to businessman Jeffrey E. Thompson's campaign violations, it was Correct the Record that first spoke out in her defense. The allegations, said the group's top adviser, were "brazenly false." (Dewey Square released a statement saying Moore was "unaware of any inappropriate activities.")

To what extent Dewey Square officials would work with Clinton on her actual campaign — rather than the independent, outside efforts of groups like Ready for Hillary, Priorities USA, and Correct the Record — remains an open question.

One former Dewey Square strategist, Guy Cecil, is considered a leading contender for the role of Clinton's campaign manager. Cecil currently services as the executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Clinton, who stepped down as secretary of state early last year, has only recently jumped back into politics. She appeared earlier this month at Sen. Tom Harkin's Steak Fry, a premier fundraising event in Iowa, the early-voting state, and has started fundraising for Democratic candidates running in midterm races this fall.

Clinton has said she hasn't made up her mind yet about whether to run for president, and won't announce her decision until sometime next year.

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