AOL TW’s Parsons has ties in D.C.

Dec 17, 2001  •  Post A Comment

When Richard Parsons begins his new post this spring as CEO of AOL Time Warner, he’ll have plenty of powerful friends to call on in Washington.
By any measure he’s well-connected, with ties not just to President George W. Bush, for example, but also to his dad, former President George H.W. Bush.
“I knew the president’s father actually before he was vice president and president,” Mr. Parsons told Electronic Media last week.
He’s known the current President Bush, who appointed him to co-chair a bipartisan panel on Social Security reform, since the Texan hit the campaign trail, and the two have met often to work on the issue.
That’s not the only influential GOP father-son duo he’s close to.
He’s been friends with Secretary of State Colin Powell for 25 years and knows his son Michael, who is head of the Federal Communications Commission. Mr. Parsons worked closely with the younger Mr. Powell when the FCC reviewed the AOL Time Warner merger.
Other “old friends” are Vice President Dick Cheney and Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill. Mr. Parsons is also on the transition team of New York GOP Mayor-elect Michael Bloomberg.
The executive said his connections are probably one reason why outgoing CEO Gerald Levin chose him to head the company.
“It certainly couldn’t hurt. I don’t think it was the basis for a decision,” Mr. Parsons said, adding that his company wanted someone “who understands the place where government regulation and policymaking intersect.”
At times Mr. Parsons, known for his engaging demeanor and diplomatic style, seems more like a politician than an executive.
At a press briefing in Washington last week by the Social Security panel, it was Mr. Parsons who took center stage while his co-chair, retired Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, stood on the side.
The panel will soon complete its work, but Mr. Parsons is not ready to hang up his policy hat. He’ll remain available to the Bush administration to work on “social policy” issues-as a volunteer only-despite the added pressures of his new job. The panel is not Mr. Parsons’s first stint in a policy role: He was a White House legal adviser during the Ford administration.
Mr. Parsons is a generous contributor to mostly Republican causes, having donated $39,000 to candidates and political action committees from 1997 to 2001, according to Federal Election Commission data.