The giant precious metals retailer Goldline has hired a top Washington, D.C. lobbying firm as it prepares for congressional hearings and contends with an ongoing investigation into the company's aggressive sales tactics.
In papers filed this week, Prime Policy Group reported it would take on the Goldline account, and help the company, a prime sponsor of Fox News host Glenn Beck, navigate an increasingly hostile environment in Congress. ABC News reported this summer that Rep. Anthony Weiner, a New York Democrat, has been looking to ratchet up regulatory oversight of gold sales, and has congressional hearings in the works for later this month.
Goldline, which sponsors such conservative talkers as Beck, Fred Thompson, and Mike Huckabee, among others, has disputed complaints that it pushes customers to invest their money in collectable gold coins rather than gold bullion. Unlike bullion, the coins carry a hefty mark-up. Goldline customers told ABC News that they found the coins were also much more difficult to sell without taking a loss.
In an interview on Good Morning America, Goldline executive vice president Scott Carter said the firm is simply offering its customers sound advice. He noted that his firm had been in business more than 50 years, earning half a billion dollars, and enjoyed an A plus rating from the Better Business Bureau.
The lobbying shop that will help champion that message is an outgrowth of massive powerhouse firms Burson-Marsteller and Timmons and Company. Prime Policy Group has deep ties in Congress and to the White House, and is led by a group that includes Charlie Black, a longtime Republican hand who helped guide the 2008 presidential campaign of Sen. John McCain, and Scott Pastrick, a former Treasurer of the Democratic National Committee.
The firm's federal filing says it will help Goldline contend with "all legislative activities affecting the sale and marketing of precious metals products." Among those identified as working on the account are a former top aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and a former legislative adviser to President George W. Bush.
The fall promises to serve up more theatrics between Goldline's talk show backers and Weiner, an outspoken critic of the firm and its practices.
"My view is that these commentators are doing a disservice to their viewers," Weiner said in an interview with ABC News. "I don't know and it remains to be seen whether Goldline is doing anything illegal. It sure seems that way."
Weiner and Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Illinois) announced in July that they were planning hearings after an ABC News report in which some customers of Goldline described how they felt cheated by the company. Consumer complaints have also prompted an investigation by local officials in California, who said they were disturbed to hear about the high pressure approach used by Goldline and one other company, Superior Gold Group. And they have prompted a class action lawsuit, filed in South Carolina against the company on behalf of customers who allege they have been ripped off.
A Goldline spokesman told ABC News Thursday that the company hired Prime Policy Group to "open another avenue to help them educate members of Congress" about the operation.
The spokesman, Eric Hoffman of the Washington strategic communications firm Powell Tate, said that Goldline's fresh-faced pitchman Scott Carter will be testifying at the upcoming hearings, which he said are currently scheduled for the end of September.
"Scott looks forward to talking to members of congress about Goldline," Hoffman said.
Beck has called the criticism of Goldline "the biggest spin you've ever seen" and suggested it was part of a government plot to deprive mainstream Americans of choices in how they invest their savings.
"They are going to nudge the gold industry out of business," Beck said on his syndicated radio program in July. "They are going to regulate it and regulate it and regulate it, until you won't be able to buy gold anymore. This is what I'm telling you -- they can't have people buying gold. They need to own all the gold. They're going to nudge us. Mark my words."