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When the Boss Gets Busted: Survival Stories from the Front Lines of Political Scandal
Comments () | Published July 25, 2011
Today Parker owns his own political firm in a restored brick building on a quiet street in downtown Columbus. A collection of golf balls—almost all from courses Parker has played—is on a side table in his office. It includes a ball from St. Andrews, a gift from Ney. Parker did not get asked to go on the trip after all.

The Scotland trip became a focal point of the Abramoff scandal. Though he admitted to trading other favors, Ney—who is now a talk-radio commentator, runs a nonprofit focused on treating stress and substance abuse, and has been sober for five years—maintains that he didn’t solicit that trip from Abramoff. Nonetheless, it’s still held up as an infamous example of public corruption. So when Parker didn’t get invited—Ney says he mostly left it up to Will Heaton to decide who would go—it was one of the biggest breaks he ever got. Heaton, then the youngest chief of staff on the Hill, did go to Scotland and later ended up pleading guilty to conspiring with Ney and Abramoff.

When Parker had to retain a lawyer, he says, the attorney took his case because Ney’s legal defense fund was supposed to cover Parker’s bill. But when the time came to pay, the fund was tapped out. Parker owed about $50,000 to the law firm—an amount that likely would have bankrupted him. The firm then waived his debt.

Still, the aftermath of the scandal wasn’t easy. After Ney resigned and pleaded guilty and Republicans lost the 2006 elections in droves, Parker was unable to find work. He wanted to get out of politics, so he started looking for jobs in other fields, including at advertising agencies. He didn’t get far: “The only thing they cared about if you worked in politics was if the guy you were working for was still powerful. And he wasn’t. He was going to jail.”

Parker’s wife, who had just finished graduate school, started working as a cashier to help make the mortgage payments. Despite the stress Parker put her through, she stood by him.

Parker eventually realized that campaigns were his talent, and despite his determination to get out of politics, he opened a campaign consulting firm in his basement. He built up a client base, initially relying on contacts he had made working for Ney.

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Paying for Legal Fees When the Boss Gets Busted

Parker’s firm, Front Porch Strategies, has grown to seven employees and focuses on helping campaigns execute mass phone calls to voters, dubbed “robocalling.” During the 2010 election cycle, Front Porch had clients in 37 states and Canada.

Though he now recognizes how naive he had been to ignore Ney’s conduct, Parker’s loyalty to the ex-congressman never gave out. Ney served 17 months in prison, during which Parker acted as his power of attorney. They no longer live across the street from each other, but they still talk at least every couple of weeks, and Ney occasionally takes care of Brutus, Parker’s Boston bulldog.

“He had his flaws, but anything I had in politics he introduced me to,” says Parker, now 29. “He taught me a lot of the good things I know about politics today.”

Parker, who was raised Christian, started going to church again in 2008. He says Jesus Christ has replaced politics as his number-one priority, and his faith has helped him strengthen his marriage. He and his wife are in the process of adopting their first child.

But Parker knows he’s not the last young staffer who will endure the kind of turmoil he went through. “There are still people like Bob Ney in Congress,” he says. And still people like Matthew Parker who work for them.

This article appears in the August 2011 issue of The Washingtonian. 

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Posted at 08:00 AM/ET, 07/25/2011 RSS | Print | Permalink | Comments () | Articles