- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 24, 2002

RICHMOND The owner of a Republican consulting and telemarketing firm will serve as the interim staff director of the state Republican Party while the party searches for a permanent successor to Edmund A. Matricardi III.
David Johnson takes over a party organization that has been without an executive director since late March, when state police began investigating whether Mr. Matricardi illegally monitored private Democratic conference calls.
Mr. Matricardi resigned on April 9, after he was indicted on four felony wiretapping counts.
Mr. Johnson is a longtime Republican activist who was the state party's executive director from 1993 to 1996. He is the chairman of the Republican organization for the 3rd Congressional District.
"I really want to take a little time to talk to the staff, the chair and other state parties around the country to look for models we can use here for a hard-charging state Republican Party," Mr. Johnson said in an interview.
Improving morale at the party headquarters as the eavesdropping scandal widens is also important, he said.
"We've got a dedicated staff, but it's not been very pleasant in this environment. They're ready to get back to working," Mr. Johnson said.
State Republican Chairman Gary Thomson said Mr. Johnson's experience managing the party's day-to-day operations gives him the insight to help choose a permanent executive director.
"Dave is able to carefully review the skills of the applicants as well as to assess the role of the executive director at the party. Dave is uniquely qualified to coordinate this process, which I anticipate will last 60 to 90 days," Mr. Thomson said.
Mr. Johnson owns Conquest Communications Group, a nationally known Republican consulting and telemarketing firm. Since Jan. 1, 2000, Conquest took in $464,239 from Republican candidates and organizations for such tasks as direct mail, fund-raising efforts, phone banks, polling, and television and radio ads, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.
The state GOP paid Conquest $13,728 last year for a phone-bank operation that issued advocacy calls, according to the project, a newspaper consortium that maintains a database of campaign contributions.
State police investigated claims by several Republican state senators last year that Conquest eavesdropped on telephone conversations with their constituents. The weeklong inquiry did not find evidence that the firm's workers listened to or recorded any conversations, said state police Superintendent Col. W. Gerald Massengill.
The investigation sprang from a dispute between then-Gov. James S. Gilmore III, who insisted that his car-tax phaseout proceed as scheduled last year, and dissident Republican senators, who wanted the pace of the tax rollback slowed as the economy weakened.
Mr. Gilmore's New Majority Project political action committee hired Conquest to call constituents in select senators' districts and forward people who opposed any slowing of the car-tax cut to the senators' Richmond office phones to complain. Senators said they could hear the operators on the line after the conversations began.
The state GOP, meanwhile, continues its search for a permanent director. Mr. Johnson said a search committee had received several resumes, and he expected to have dozens from which to choose.

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