Mercury is an American public relations (PR) company, with offices across the United States, London, Mexico City and Singapore. It is a subsidiary of Fleishman-Hillard, one of the largest PR firms in the world.
Staff: Past & Present
- Stephen Aaron - Managing Director, based in the Washington office, who “helps clients nuance complex issues to deliver effective messages amid intense national debates to move the public in support of client agendas”. Aaron, and his colleague Simpson, manage Mercury’s Altria account (see below).
- Tony Fabrizio – Senior Counselor and considered an “expert in public opinion and politics”, who was the Chief Pollster for President Trump’s 2016 campaign. He previously advised several Fortune 500 companies, including Altria.
- Patrick Muttart – worked for Mercury as Managing Director in its Canada office from 2009 to 2012. He then moved to Philip Morris International (PMI) where he first worked as Government Affairs and Corporate Communication Director Asia, and then Corporate Affairs Director PMI Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands. In January 2018 he was appointed PMI’s Corporate Affairs Director Philippines.
- Al Simpson - Managing Director and based at the Washington office. He co-manages the Altria account.
- George Tucker, Senior Vice President and based in the London office, formerly Head of Communications for Imperial Tobacco.
Direct and Indirect Relationship with the Tobacco Industry
In 2018 Mercury was hired by Altria to be its “Washington lobbyist on tobacco product legislation”. Records of the United States Senate Office of Public Records document that the contract was worth US$150,000 in 2018. Altria has lobbied the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on “the long term promise of e-vapor products and harm reduction”. In a letter to the FDA in October 2018, Altria’s Chairman Howard A. Willard III stated that “we believe e-vapor products present an important opportunity for adult smokers to switch from combustible cigarettes”. In December 2018 Altria angered the FDA by acquiring a 35% stake in e-cigarette company JUUL Labs, which the FDA has deemed responsible for “a significant proportion of the overall use of e-cigarette products by children”.
- For more information, see also: E-Cigarettes: Altria.
Foundation for a Smoke-Free World
Mercury has also provided PR services to the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World (FSFW), an ostensibly independent scientific organisation which aims to ‘accelerate the end of smoking, but which is solely funded by Philip Morris International. The FSFW 2018 tax return shows that the Foundation paid Mercury US$ 664,616 for PR services rendered in 2018.
Maria Alvarado, Vice President of Mercury’s office in Austin, was listed as the main contact on the FSFW press release for World No Smoking Day 2018.
Embroiled in Controversy About Foreign Lobbying
In 2018 Mercury found itself at the heart of Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference with President Trump’s election win in 2016. Mueller’s investigation found that Vin Weber, a partner at Mercury’s offices in Washington, had been involved in a lobbying campaign that was set to benefit pro-Russia Ukrainian politicians and had been paid millions through offshore bank accounts set up by Manafort, Trump’s former campaign Chairman. In May 2018 a Mercury spokesperson responded against the allegations saying that the firm has “always welcomed any inquiry since we acted appropriately at every step of the process, including hiring a top lawyer in Washington and following his advice. We’ll continue to cooperate as we have previously”.
The case was passed on to Justice Department prosecutors.
- Mercury LLC, About Mercury website, 2017, accessed March 2019
- K. O’Brien, Mercury becomes an independent Fleishman-Hillard subsidiary, PR Week, 18 January 2005, accessed March 2019
- Mercury LLC, Stephen Aaron, 2017, accessed March 2019
- K. McCauley, Altria Taps Mercury for Tobacco Regulation Work, O’Dwyers, 4 June 2018, accessed March 2019
- Mercury LLC, Tony Fabrizio, 2017, accessed March 2019
- J. Lee, Mercury Public Affairs taps Muttart as MD, PR Week, 20 May 2009, accessed March 2019
- P. Muttart, Linkedin Profile, Linkedin.com, undated, accessed March 2019
- Mercury LLC, Al Simpson, 2017, accessed March 2019
- Mercury LLC, George Tucker, Senior Vice President, 2017, accessed March 2019
- The United States Senate, Query the Lobbying Disclosure Act Database, search on Mercury Public Affairs LLC, accessed March 2019
- H.A. Willard, Letter to FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, dated 25 October 2018, ALTRIA website, accessed March 2019
- S. Gottlieb, Letter to Howard A. Willard III, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Altria Group Inc, dated 6 February 2019, FDA website, accessed March 2019
- Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, Form 990-PF, 2018 Tax Return, 13 May 2019, accessed May 2019
- Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, New data show 75% of smokers in the UK have tried to quit but have been unsuccessful, 31 May 2018, accessed April 2019
- M. Burke, Investigators focusing on foreign lobbying by firms linked to Manafort: Report, thehill.com, 12 May 2018, accessed March 2019
- M. Rosenberg, K.P. Vogel, K. Benner, Mueller Passes 3 Cases Focused on Illicit Foreign Lobbying to Prosecutors in New York, The New York Times, 1 August 2018, accessed March 2019
- E. Tucker, D. Butler, C. Day, Prosecutors ramp up foreign lobbying probe in New York, AP News, 6 December 2018, accessed March 2019 Cite error: Invalid
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- Spin doctors to the autocrats: how European PR firms whitewash repressive regimes Corporate Europe Observatory, 20 January 2015, accessed March 2019
- R.Torossian, Even PR firms ought to say no once in a while, The Observer, 27 January 2015, accessed March 2019