WPP staff linked to 'US senator donations'

Republican senator Jeff Sessions backed by associates of the advertising giant
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The Independent Online

Individuals and lobbying groups linked to the advertising giant WPP have emerged as some of the biggest backers of Jeff Sessions, one of America's most hardline Republican senators.

Mr Sessions, a junior senator from Alabama, has proved a controversial figure even among some on the right in the US. He was denied a judicial position during Ronald Reagan's administration for allegedly making racist remarks to a colleague, which he says was taken out of context.

He is making waves in the US as one of the leaders of opposition to President Barack Obama's attempt to bring universal healthcare cover to the US, and is a vocal supporter of the hard-right Tea Party movement.

The Center for Responsive Politics, a non-partisan research group based in Washington DC, lists WPP as the sixth-biggest donor for the 2005-2010 electoral cycle to Mr Sessions.

Its website, www.opensecrets.org, stresses that the organisations listed as donors, which in Mr Sessions' case also include US corporations including the defence giants Lockheed Martin and Boeing and the telecommunications company AT&T, do not donate themselves. But it says the money comes "from the organisation's political action committee, its individual members or employees or owners, and those individuals' immediate families. Organisation totals include subsidiaries and affiliates."

Of the WPP-affiliated total of $35,900 (£22,666), $34,400 comes from individuals linked to WPP, with a further $1,500 from political action committees (PACs). In the US, a group becomes a PAC by receiving contributions or making expenditures in excess of $1,000 for the purpose of influencing a federal election.

Among the WPP-connected individuals donating to Mr Sessions are several employees of lobbying firms that WPP, run by Sir Martin Sorrell, owns. The group is best known for its advertising business but it also owns a number of public relations and lobbying operations.

Opensecrets lists 15 different lobbyists as "contributors to Jeff Sessions and his Leadership Political Action Committee representing WPP Group".

It lists US lobbying expenditures of $840,000 in total for WPP. A spokesman for WPP said: "None of these contributions have come from group funds. They all represent amounts given by individuals who may or may not be employed by one of the group's operating companies involved in US political lobbying or indeed in other areas of the group's business. It is obviously an individual's choice as to how they spend their money."

A breakdown of WPP-related lobbying expenses by subsidiary reveals that Ogilvy Government Relations spent $310,000; the Prime Policy Group $200,000; Prime Policy Group/ Yukos International UK BV: $120,000; PR firm Burson-Marsteller $60,000; the WPP Group $60,000; with other subsidiary groups spending smaller amounts.