WASHINGTON, DC: Qorvis Communications is at the root of media scrutiny over its actions for short-lived client AIG.
Leaked e-mails from speaker's bureau Leading Authorities, that was working on behalf of Qorvis, have prompted accusations of unethical tactics. The e-mails, sent by Leading Authorities to four economic experts, stated that AIG was looking for sympathetic speakers to defend it in public from the charges being leveled at the company by New York attorney general Eliot Spitzer. The e-mails indicated that compensation for such efforts could be a $25,000 retainer, with an additional $10,000 for op-eds or TV appearances, of which Leading Authorities would get a 30% cut.
Mark French, the president of Leading Authorities, said that Qorvis asked him to find people who might be sympathetic to AIG, but he denied that any financial quid pro quo was offered.
"There was simply a suggestion as to if there were interest ... how compensation might be arranged," French said. "We forwarded the substance of what had been provided by Qorvis, describing what the issues were and determining if these individuals would be sympathetic to the other side."
On that count, French was unsuccessful; of the four experts contacted, none responded with a solid yes, and at least one leaked the e-mail to The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, both of which ran stories on Friday.
Qorvis and AIG both denied asking Leading Authorities to offer any money in return for speeches. Don Goldberg, a Qorvis managing director who handled the account, said "we just wanted a list of names" of prominent people sympathetic to AIG, and added "we did not know that [the financial discussion in the e-mail] was happening."
Asked if he though Leading Authorities had made a mistake, Goldberg replied, "They made an error in writing an e-mail that might be sent to The New York Times."
French said that Leading Authorities had never worked with Qorvis before, but Goldberg said that people at Qorvis had in fact worked with the bureau in the past and had good experiences. Both said that Leading Authorities received no money for its work in this particular case.
Qorvis had been working for AIG during the month of October providing strategic counsel, said Goldberg. But early this week, they were fired. Both companies said the severing of the relationship had nothing to do with the Leading Authorities issue.
"[AIG] had an expectation that we could somehow turn the press around," said Goldberg, characterizing that hope as "unrealistic."
AIG PR director Joe Norton said only that the company dropped Qorvis because "they were unhelpful." He also denied knowledge of Qorvis' and Leading Authorities' tactics. "We didn't know [that Qorvis had approached Leading Authorities] and would never have done that," Norton said.