Want to win a satellite spy agency? Hire a lobbyist

Missouri’s six living former governors meet in Kansas City last November to discuss economic development. They include Kit Bond, third from right.
Missouri’s six living former governors meet in Kansas City last November to discuss economic development. They include Kit Bond, third from right. Kansas City Star

Civic leaders in southern Illinois were disappointed last month when Missouri was chosen as the home for a $1.75 billion federal satellite spy agency project they’d pitched aggressively to get.

But unlike Illinois, Missouri had paid a Washington lobbyist to help persuade the government to build the new National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency Western headquarters in North St. Louis.

He wasn’t just any lobbyist, either. Kit Bond, a former four-term Republican senator and two-term governor of Missouri, was personally involved in pitching the St. Louis site to members of Congress and federal agencies, as were two of his former Senate staffers, federal lobbying disclosures show.

The agency’s Western headquarters is currently at the historic St. Louis Arsenal, but the site no longer meets the needs of its mission. The new headquarters will be completed by 2022.

It’s difficult to know whether Bond’s involvement was a decisive factor in selecting the site for the new facility. But in a town where connections matter, few people are better connected than former members of Congress and their former staffers.

The lobbying disclosures, filed quarterly with the clerk of the House of Representatives, show that the Hawthorn Foundation, an economic development group founded in 1982 by then-Gov. Bond, has paid his lobbying firm $200,000 since 2013 to advocate in Washington on behalf of Missouri’s military installations.

A lot of the work Bond’s firm has done involves the Base Closure and Realignment Commission, and authorization and appropriations bills for the Defense Department, according to the lobbying disclosures.

Starting in early 2015, Kit Bond Strategies put the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency project on its to-do list. Initially, the firm relied on two former Bond Senate staffers to do the work on the agency: Mike DuBois, his former legislative assistant, and Shana Marchio, his former communications director.

Like members of Congress, staffers often make good lobbyists because of their knowledge of issues and the connections they made working on Capitol Hill.

Late last year, Bond himself joined the team lobbying the House of Representatives and the Senate, the Defense Department, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers, whose environmental impact study would determine the preferred site.

In March, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency Director Robert Cardillo announced that North St. Louis was the preferred site, surprising those who thought Scott Air Force Base in Illinois had numerous advantages, including more land and better security.

Members of Congress and local leaders from southern Illinois met with Cardillo in May in an attempt to persuade him to postpone his final decision, and they criticized the Army Corps of Engineers study as flawed, but to no avail.

The choice of North St. Louis became final last month.

In April, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay and members of Missouri’s congressional delegation had celebrated the win.

Marchio, now a spokeswoman for Kit Bond Strategies, said in a statement that Bond “has spent his career fighting to protect Missouri jobs and grow the state’s economy and is proud to have played a part in this successful effort.”

Another business group, the Leadership Council of Southwestern Illinois, has paid a Washington lobbying firm, Smith, Dawson and Andrews, $200,000 since 2014 to advocate on issues that include economic development at Scott Air Force Base.

Ronda Sauget, the executive director of the leadership council, said she couldn’t disclose the details of the lobbying firm’s work on behalf of the base, but she did say the focus of its work was not on behalf of any individual project.

Sauget added that she was not aware of another Illinois business group lobbying to bring the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency to Scott.

Curtis Tate: 202-383-6018, @tatecurtis