By - Anna Cifelli Isgro

(FORTUNE Magazine) – A young lobbying firm advises big corporate clients and top presidential hopefuls, too. INFLUENCE is the political currency of Washington, and the hottest marketer of connections to the powerful is a five-year-old outfit known as Black Manafort Stone. Run by young, tough political operators, the organization is a one-stop shop that combines lobbying and campaign consulting. In a juggling feat, the partners are advising all three top potential Republican presidential candidates. Though the conflicting activities are legal, some politicians and businessmen say Black Manafort Stone is stretching Washington's already flexible ethical standards to bewildering lengths. Charles Black, 38, is an unpaid consultant to both Kansas Senator Bob Dole and New York Congressman Jack Kemp. Roger Stone, 33, also advises Kemp. Another partner, Lee Atwater, 34, recently became chairman of George Bush's political action committee. A dozen other candidates, including Florida Senator Paula Hawkins and former Vermont Governor Richard Snelling, now running for the Senate, are each paying the firm up to $100,000 in consulting fees. The group's political win-loss record is good and includes Senator Jesse Helms's victory over Governor James Hunt in North Carolina in 1984. But in the New Jersey Senate race, Stone's client, Mary Mochary, lost to incumbent Bill Bradley. The secret of the firm's sizzle: the partners are campaign veterans with strong connections to Capitol Hill and the White House. Black, Manafort, Stone, and Atwater are all former senior advisers to President Reagan's campaigns. Black, the firm's strategic thinker, was an aide to Helms. Manafort, a lawyer, handled Treasury Secretary James Baker's fight for Texas attorney general in 1978. Stone, known for sartorial elegance, is credited with converting Democratic voters to Reaganism during the last election. South Carolinian Atwater is best remembered for his contribution to Reagan's sweeping 1980 victory in the South. He later became a White House political aide. A former blues guitarist (he played for singer Percy Sledge), Atwater invited the likes of singer James Brown and futurist Alvin Toffler to White House luncheons. Black Manafort Stone provides lobbying services for about 30 companies, business groups, and foreign governments. Lobbying results are mixed: clients Johnson & Johnson and Salomon Brothers lost some tax benefits in the reform bill that emerged from the House last session. Critics charge that a firm that helps elect a member of Congress can then lobby him for corporate clients and foreign governments. Black says the firm handles the activities through two separate companies: one, Black Manafort Stone & Atwater, for political consulting, and the other, Black Manafort Stone & Kelly, for lobbying. But the top partners, Black, Manafort, and Stone, are active in both. As for advising opposing political candidates, Atwater, who spends half his time directing the Bush PAC, sees no conflict. He says of his partners, ''We have agreed to disagree.'' Kemp has no problem with the arrangement, according to press aide John Buckley: ''The partners are discreet with the advice they tender; it doesn't spill over to the other partners.'' An obvious benefit to the firm: all Republican sides seem to be covered, no matter which candidate wins the nomination.