NAB May Tap Beer Lobbyist

Aug 29, 2005  •  Post A Comment

David Rehr, a partisan Republican who is currently president of the National Beer Wholesalers Association, has emerged from the pack as front-runner to succeed Eddie Fritts as president and CEO of the National Association of Broadcasters, sources said late last week.

Mr. Rehr has no background in the broadcast industry, but he is considered a very well connected and influential Washington lobbyist, with particularly strong connections to Republican Party leaders, including House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas.

If Mr. Rehr gets the nod, NAB will become the latest association to bow to the political reality of doing business in a town where the House, Senate and White House all are controlled by Republicans. Earlier this year the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, the cable TV industry’s major lobbying association, hired as its leader prominent Republican Kyle McSlarrow, who had no experience in cable.

“The NAB is delivering themselves to the Bush White House,” said Jeff Chester, executive director of the watchdog Center for Digital Democracy.

As of late last week two other candidates remained on the short list for the NAB’s top slot: Fred Grandy, the former “Love Boat” star and former Republican congressman from Iowa; and Mitch Rose, a former aide to Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, who is now a lobbyist for The Walt Disney Co.

In addition, sources said broadcast industry executives might still throw their hats into the ring. Among those mentioned as possible stealth candidates: Mike Fiorile, president and CEO of The Dispatch Broadcast Group; David Kennedy, president and CEO of Susquehanna Media; and Jim Keelor, president and chief operating officer of Liberty Corp.

But as of late last week sources said Mr. Rehr was the man to beat. An official decision is expected as soon as October, when background investigations of the finalists are expected to be completed.

Mr. Rehr is a longtime ally of the Republican Party, proving his loyalty during the years the Democrats controlled the White House. In 1996 he was chosen to lecture new Congressmen on how best to raise money from business. He has been involved in raising money for Republicans in every national election cycle for more than a decade. In 2004 he distinguished himself in lobbying circles by campaigning for President Bush’s re-election and by personally raising more than $100,000 for the Bush-Cheney campaign war chest. Under Mr. Rehr’s leadership, the political action committee for the beer association has also staked a claim as one of the nation’s top five contributors to the campaigns of federal lawmakers. The beer association PAC, according to the watchdog Center for Responsive Politics, gave $2.3 million to congressional re-election campaigns during the 2004 election, with 76 percent of the total going to GOP candidates.

NAB officials declined to comment on the job search last week. But sources said Mr. Rehr’s name-along with those of Mr. Grandy and Lisa Hook, a former president of AOL Broadband’s premium and developer services and prot%E9;g%E9; of former Federal Communications Commission Chairman Dennis Patrick-were referred to the NAB search committee by the search firm Spencer Stuart.

Rose Push

Mr. Rose was described as a “walk-on candidate” who has been promoted for the NAB’s top slot by Sen. Stevens, the influential chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, and Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, the committee’s ranking Democrat.

Ms. Hook has taken her name out of consideration, according to sources. But she, Mr. Rose, Mr. Grandy and Mr. Rehr have all been interviewed by NAB’s search committee, sources said.

Another prominent candidate for the NAB post-CBS executive VP Marty Franks-was interviewed briefly by Spencer Stuart but was not interviewed by the NAB search committee, sources said.

It was unclear why Mr. Franks did not make the NAB search committee’s cut. But some sources questioned his fit with the organization because he has strong Democratic roots and works for a network that is not an NAB member.

None of the broadcast industry executives identified as possible candidates returned telephone calls last week. Mr. Keelor and Mr. Fiorile are NAB board members. Mr. Kennedy is a former NAB board chairman who is currently co-chairing the NAB search committee, along with Citadel Communications CEO Phil Lombardo, another former NAB board chairman.

To launch a campaign for NAB’s top executive slot, Mr. Kennedy, who has reportedly been preoccupied recently with trying to buy at least part of the on-the-block Susquehanna, would have to resign from the search committee.

Mr. Rehr was named president of the beer association Jan. 1, 2000, after a stint as the organization’s senior VP for government affairs. Before that he was director of federal governmental relations for the National Federation of Independent Business, an organization for which he was recently reported to be on the short list to head.

In addition, Mr. Rehr was previously a staffer for former Rep. Vin Weber, R-Minn., and served on the staff for the House Small Business Committee. Mr. Rehr holds master’s and doctoral degrees in economics from George Mason University and a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Saint John’s University. He has four children.