The Slickest Shop in Town

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When Savimbi came to Washington last month to seek support for his guerrilla organization, UNITA, in its struggle against the Marxist regime in Angola, he hired Black, Manafort. What the firm achieved was quickly dubbed "Savimbi chic." Doors swung open all over town for the guerrilla leader, who was dapperly attired in a Nehru suit and ferried about in a stretch limousine. Dole had shown only general interest in Savimbi's cause until Black, the Senate majority leader's former aide, approached him on his client's behalf. Dole promptly introduced a congressional resolution backing UNITA's insurgency and sent a letter to the State Department urging that the U.S. supply it with heavy arms. The firm's fee for such services was reportedly $600,000.

The Black, Manafort partners have woven such an intricate web of connections that the strands become entangled at times. Lobbyist Kelly served as finance chairman of the National Democratic Institute, a public-interest organization established by Congress to promote democracy in underdeveloped countries. The institute recently sent observers to try to ensure a fair election in the Philippines. Yet Kelly's firm, for a reported $900,000 fee, represents Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos, who stands accused of having stolen the vote. Manafort for one sees no conflict. He points out that the firm urged Marcos to try to make the elections more credible to American observers. "What we've tried to do is make it more of a Chicago-style election and not Mexico's," he explained.

As a political firm, Black, Manafort represents Democrats and Republicans alike--and sometimes candidates running for the same seat. Kelly, for instance, is doing some fund raising for Democratic Senate Candidates John Breaux in Louisiana, Bob Graham in Florida and Patrick Leahy in Vermont. Atwater and Black are consultants for the Republican opponents in these contests. In the race for the 1988 Republican presidential nomination, Atwater advises Bush, while Stone advises Kemp. Stone and Atwater's offices are right across the hall from each other, prompting one congressional aide to ask facetiously, "Why have primaries for the nomination? Why not have the candidates go over to Black, Manafort & Stone and argue it out?"

Stone and Atwater present a contrast in styles. Stone, who practices the hardball politics he first learned as an aide to convicted Watergate Co- Conspirator Charles Colson, fancies $400 suits and lawn parties. With his heavy-lidded eyes and frosty demeanor, he openly derides Atwater's client, Vice President Bush, as a "weenie." Atwater, an impish good ole boy from South Carolina, wears jeans and twangs an electric guitar. Both, however, drive Mercedes.

For all its diverse interests, the firm remains "loyal to the President," says Black. "We would never lobby against Star Wars, for example." The firm has nonetheless attacked the President's tax-reform bill on behalf of corporate clients seeking to preserve their loopholes, and it did not hesitate to lobby for quotas on shoe imports on behalf of the Footwear Industries of America, even though Reagan strongly opposed the bill as protectionist. And at times the firm does show some selectivity. A few years back, it turned down Libya's Muammar Gaddafi as a client.

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