Penn Steps Down From Clinton Campaign Over Colombia "Conflict"
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Holmes Report

Penn Steps Down From Clinton Campaign Over Colombia "Conflict"

The Colombian Government says it plans to terminate its public relations contract with Burson-Marsteller after chief executive and Clinton aide Mark Penn called a meeting with the client a mistake.

Paul Holmes

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Burson-Marsteller chief executive Mark Penn has resigned from his role as chief strategist to Senator Hillary Clinton over a controversy generated by his firm's work for the government of Colombia. The campaign says Penn voluntarily stepped down from his leadership position, but that he and Burson's research subsidiary Penn Schoen & Berland will continue to handle polling for Clinton's bid for the Democratic nomination.


Earlier, the Colombian government announced plans to terminate its public relations contract with Burson-Marsteller after Penn--scrambling to deal with the apparent conflict of interest between his campaign role and Burson-Marsteller's work for the Colombians--called a meeting with the client a mistake. Burson is helping the Colombians make a case for a free trade agreement that Clinton and many of her blue-collar supporters oppose.


Penn responded to complaints by organized labor groups who questioned his relationship with the Colombian government by declaring that it was an "error in judgment" to meet with the Colombian Ambassador on March 31. According to a statement, the Colombian government “considers this a lack of respect to Colombians, and finds this response unacceptable.”


Meanwhile, the apology was apparently not enough to satisfy others within the Clinton campaign, especially given reported tensions between Penn and others in the campaign leadership. The New York Times described Penn as "widely disliked by Mrs. Clinton's fiercest loyalists" and claimed he had "bitterly feuded with many of them." The Washington Post said that Penn had been "a polarizing figure within the Clinton campaign for months."


In addition to reported personality clashes and debates over who was to blame for the Clinton campaign's supposed lack of preparedness for a campaign that dragged on beyond Super Tuesday, there had been earlier controversies involving Penn's dual role. Many campaign advisors either resign or take a leave of absence from their private sector jobs, and many PR firms have policies forbidding staff from working on campaigns while still actively employed by their agencies, but Penn continued to juggle both responsibilities, and took heat because several of the firm's clients--including mortgage lender Countywide Financial and private security firm Blackwater Worldwide--were viewed unfavorably by many Democratic voters.


Burson had been retained by the Colombian Embassy in Washington in March of 2007 “based on its track record in the field of public relations.”


The statement said that the Colombian Government “will continue its efforts to show to different sectors in the

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