A little more than a week ago, Doug Goodyear, the CEO of the Washington-based public affairs firm DCI Group, resigned from his volunteer posting to McCain campaign; he had been picked to serve as the CEO of the Republican National Convention. His departure, and the departure of one of his colleagues, was precipitated by news reports that DCI had served as image consultants to the ruling junta in Burma for a period of eight months beginning in 2002.
Now, amid press reports about a new wave of McCain campaign departures, DCI wants to get its side of the story out; the short-hand used to describe and the firm and its actions bothers Mr. Goodyear.
Goodyear agreed to a brief interview this morning. The firm plans to release a statement to the press about its work for the government of Myanmar six years ago.
Why, I asked, did DCI terminate its contract in 2003?
“It was clear that we couldn’t accomplish what we set out to accomplish,” Goodyear said. “We were going to try and make relations between the two countries more normal. It was very clear that we couldn’t do what we wanted to do.”
In DCI’s statement, Goodyear lays out the chronology as follows: In 2002,
DCI Group was approached by a moderate faction within the Myanmar government that sought assistance in working alongside the U.S. government in its fight against the opium trade and Myanmar’s AIDS epidemic. Recognizing the implications of this effort, DCI Group agreed to take on this project on the condition that the Myanmar government demonstrate a major confidence-building commitment and agree to release a number of political detainees including Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi.
Thanks to the work of international pressure groups, Suu Kyi and dozens of prisoners were soon released – though many thousands remained in jail, including religious dissidents and journalists -- and DCI began its work – a campaign/public relations effort that tried to rehabilitate Myanmar’s image in the United States and boost the profile of the so-called “moderates” in the regime. DCI says it helped the government combat narcotics trafficking, an effort that led to the destruction of about $500 million worth of opium. And, indeed, while DCI worked for Myanmar, the government began to negotiate with Suu Kyi and others, a report by Human Rights Watch confirms that international organizations were optimistic that, perhaps, the government was ready to moderate. Throughout this period, though, according to HRW
“….systemic restrictions on basic civil and political liberties continued unabated. Ethnic minority regions continued to report particularly grave abuses, including forced labor and the rape of Shan minority women by military forces. Government military forces continued to forcibly recruit and use child soldiers.”
In DCI’s view of the events, it took only eight months for conservative elements in the government to reassert themselves and begin to imprison the moderates who wanted to work with the DCI Group.
Mr. Goodyear was not bitter about his moment in the spotlight, but he said he was concerned about that his firm misrepresented. “Lobbying is less than 5% of our firm,” he said. “As far as I know, I’ve never lobbied. I wasn’t on the [foreign agent registration]; I’ve been lumped in with lobbyists. I can understand it; even though I don’t lobby, our firm does.”
Why then, he did leave?
McCain, he said, “wants to be out there talking about global warming….As soon as it was clear to be that I was going to be a distraction for him, I exited.”
I asked Goodyear about whether the maintenance of McCain’s reformer brand requires an extra bit of prudence. “McCain is very much his own man. And he knows he wants to be perceived by the public. This clearly matters to them, and to that extent its fair game.”
As to repeated rumors that DCI Group’s principals participated in the 2000 South Carolina smear campaign against McCain, Goodyear said that his firm “had absolutely nothing to do with it” and offered to send along a letter from campaign manager Rick Davis attesting to that fact.
The full DCI statement is after the jump.
There have been some erroneous assertions about our work with Myanmar six years ago. We want to set the record straight. DCI Group was approached by a moderate faction within the Myanmar government that sought assistance in working alongside the U.S. government in its fight against the opium trade and Myanmar’s AIDS epidemic. Recognizing the implications of this effort, DCI Group agreed to take on this project on the condition that the Myanmar government demonstrate a major confidence-building commitment and agree to release a number of political detainees including Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi.
“With the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and other detainees, our firm believed there was a historic opportunity to play a role in helping the country and its people reengage on the world stage with initiatives important to both Myanmar and the United States.
“However, eight months into this effort it became clear that engagement between the U.S. government and Myanmar was impossible and we resigned from the account. Sadly, many of the individuals within the moderate faction DCI Group worked with are now imprisoned.”