National lobbying firm opens up shop in NH

By PAUL BRIAND 

NHBR

Published: 11-29-2023 12:08 PM

Cornerstone is a nationally branded bipartisan, employee-owned government relations company offering strategic communications, advisory services and lobbying. Its two principals here are Marc Goldberg and Mike Vlacich, both with Granite State-based knowledge and experience.

“Mike and I both have been problem-solvers in our careers, and our firm really takes that approach,” said Goldberg. “If we have an issue with the client and they’re trying to address it, and we don’t have the answer off the top of our head, we can turn to the entire firm, and they’re never going to hold back in providing guidance, which is a very different dynamic than in a lot of other firms out there.”

For more than six years until Cornerstone opened here in July, Goldberg was chief of staff for U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-NH. He also served Hassan as communications director and campaign manager during her two terms as governor before she became a U.S. senator in 2017.

Vlacich, a native of Concord and a graduate of the University of New Hampshire, was senior advisor to U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, for more than two years until 2021, when he became the Small Business Administration (SBA) regional director in Boston before joining Cornerstone in September.

“New Hampshire has a lot of economic innovation, has a lot of connections, not just locally but nationally and around the world,” said Vlacich. “And so it seems that there’s a lot of opportunity to help people and help organizations navigate a more complicated policy landscape and a more complicated media landscape with more and more media demands and pressures and outlets.”

Cornerstone Government Affairs is the fifth largest lobbying firm in the country, according to OpenSecrets.org, with offices in 12 states and a mission that reflects cooperation, saying, “The benefit of this team approach is the ability to bring together a number of highly qualified professionals for the collective experience, background and relationships to plot and execute a strategy for success.”

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According to Goldberg and Vlacich, where Cornerstone locates its offices is a serious consideration. “The firm does not choose lightly where it wants to make investments,” said Vlacich. Added Goldberg: “We also have Iowa, and so it was very appealing to them. They had been thinking for a while about New Hampshire and having that synergy of the first-in-the-nation states, and it just so happened the timing worked out, where both Mike and I were looking for a new opportunity and we sort of all found each other.”

They agree that, at times, it can be a confusing political, policy and media landscape out there. Government bureaucracy can seem unnavigable at times, often undermined by partisanship. The media is splintered by a multitude of platforms, some trustworthy, some not.

“It’s the most complicated possible media and policy environment nationally, and certainly you can make that case anywhere in the world,” said Vlacich, “and having people to help you could ultimately help you make better decisions, save money, potentially earn more money — that’s what we want to do is try to help people that would like to have that support.”

Goldberg sees their job as helping clients filter out what he calls “the noise.”

“That’s a difficult dynamic for many of our potential clients out there,” he said. “We have a great deal of experience in that from years of running campaigns and working in government and things like that.”

“The loud does not equal the many,” Goldberg added. “So knowing when to react or be concerned about a dynamic in play is something that we bring to the table and we can help decipher.”

Though their past political experience revolved around Democrats, Goldberg and Vlacich insist on a non-partisan approach to their Cornerstone clients and their issues. A new hire with a Republican-connected background is imminent, they said, as is the opening of a brick-and-mortar office on Main Street in Concord.

“Having worked in New Hampshire government, you learn very well that your word is your bond, and you have to work in a bipartisan and nonpartisan way to solve problems and address issues,” said Vlacich. “The New Hampshire approach to doing things, I think, ultimately also leads to a really good way of approaching government affairs work, that you find common ground of things in people’s mutual interests.”

There’s a quality to working in New Hampshire that appeals to the two Cornerstone principals. It’s a small state, where politicians and policymakers are well known to each other, cooperative — even friendly to an extent — across the occasional ideological divide that comes with politics.

“We love the fact that we’re able to enact a lot of dots,” said Goldberg, “The fact that we’re in New Hampshire communities, that we’ve been in a lot of New Hampshire politics and government, that we know how to navigate the national and international policy, media and economic scene is important.”

According to Cornerstone, the opening of the New Hampshire office marks the significant expansion of the firm’s national footprint, adding to existing offices in Washington, D.C., Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Texas.

“Adding a twelfth state office is a significant milestone for the firm,” company president Campbell Kaufman said in announcing the new office. “Just as we have with our Iowa office, another early presidential nominating and critical battleground state like New Hampshire enhances and complements the state work we’ll be doing in Concord.”