When veteran political journalist Ron Fournier, a perennial pundit who rails against “tiny politics,” left the profession back in April to become president of the Michigan-based public relations firm Truscott Rossman, he said he would provide a needed Democratic perspective in the wake of one of its co-founder’s retirement.
Kelly Rossman-McKinney, the firm’s Democratic co-founder, was quitting to focus on a state Senate run, leaving behind Republican PR veteran and firm co-founder John Truscott. “Kelly, a legend, has been the Democratic side of a bipartisan equation; the ‘yin’ to John Truscott’s ‘yang,’” Fournier wrote in April. “That is my role now.”
“The firm remains committed to its bipartisan roots,” Truscott Rossman said in a recent press release announcing that it would open a new D.C. office. In a phone interview with TPM Wednesday, Fournier said the new office would “get me up to Washington at least once a month,” presumably to bring his Democratic perspective to the capital.
But, as it turns out, none of Fournier’s known clients at the firm are Democrats; in fact, TPM couldn’t find an example of a Democratic client at the largely Republican-leaning firm at all.
Over the phone Wednesday, Fournier initially claimed that “of course we have Democratic clients.” But he couldn’t name any, aside from the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, a non-partisan group that supported the successful effort to legalize cannabis in Michigan.
Fournier’s first client at the firm, an auto supply company run by a self-proclaimed “proud Republican,” employed Truscott Rossman after realizing the negative impacts of President Donald Trump’s tariffs, which affected the company’s place in the auto manufacturing supply chain.
“She was a local businessperson who’s got a problem with Washington,” Fournier told TPM.
In September, Fournier represented “friend & client” Andrea Fischer Newman, then a Republican regent at the University of Michigan campaigning for reelection, after a Detroit Free Press story detailed donations she accepted from donors whose firms managed university investments. Newman criticized the story as an “egregious overstep” but returned the donations in question out of concerns about “perception.” After 24 years on the board, Newman lost her bid for reelection in November.
“Disappointed in @freep for connecting distant dots and twisting them into a nefarious narrative,” Fournier tweeted in response to the investigation, while representing Newman. Months earlier, though, before joining Truscott Rossman and before the Free Press’ reporting touched his new client, Fournier celebrated an earlier article in the paper’s series on conflicts of interest in the university’s investments.
“Huge ethical morass at @UMich,” he tweeted. “Great work by @freep.”
At the end of her statement in September, which was published on Truscott Rossman’s website, Newman said the Free Press report on her donors was “clearly designed to support [the paper’s] questionable narrative that there are deep flaws in U of M’s investment portfolio.”
Fournier told TPM that Truscott Rossman doesn’t represent political candidates or campaigns, but Newman ran for reelection in a statewide race this November as a Republican. Fournier asserted: “I was representing her work at the University of Michigan Board of Regents. I was not working on her campaign.”
However, campaign finance records show that Newman’s campaign paid Fournier’s firm $208.75 for “consulting” on Nov. 19. Fournier did not respond to an email asking how that squared with his statement.
TPM asked whether Fournier would list other clients of his: “I think you’ve got a good representation there,” he said. He also disputed that the clients were his personally: “Anybody who is a client of Truscott Rossman gets all of our brainpower,” he said.
Fournier further disputed the assumption that being “bipartisan” meant working for clients of both major political parties.
“I think you’re misinterpreting the use of ‘bipartisan,'” he said. “Bipartisan reflects the make-up of the staff, not the make-up of the clients.”
Fournier himself claims to be “left of center,” but he also represents Unite America, which encourages independent candidates to run for office. Appearing on MSNBC Wednesday, Fournier said the aim of the effort was to elect “thinkers outside of the duopoly, people who aren’t aligned with the Republican and Democratic party no matter what they get from those two parties.”
TPM readers flagged the interview in emails: “On Fournier’s alleged centrism, please note he is president of Truscott Rossman,” one wrote.
Speaking to TPM Wednesday, Fournier could only identify one other current colleague on the left, senior vice president Josh Hovey. Project manager Wendy Larner has worked with Democrats in the past, as well.
Meanwhile, Republicans are well represented. Senior Account Executive Allie Walker, for example, was formerly spokesperson for Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI) and deputy press secretary for the House Ways and Means Committee.
And Truscott, the firm’s co-founder, has worked as a spokesperson for perhaps the most powerful family in Michigan: The DeVoses. Betsy DeVos is currently secretary of education. Her brother Erik Prince founded Blackwater. Her late father-in-law, Richard DeVos, co-founded Amway.
Truscott was also once the press secretary for Republican former Michigan Gov. John Engler, who recently stepped down as the interim president of Michigan State University after saying that survivors of Larry Nassar’s sexual abuse “who’ve been in the spotlight … are still enjoying that moment at times.”
In February of last year, Engler hired Truscott Rossman to head crisis communications for the university. Responding to Engler’s reported resignation 11 months later, Truscott said: “It sure will make recruiting a new president a bigger challenge.”