The 1995 Lobbying Hall of Shame
Back in 1852, James Buchanan wrote to another future president, Franklin Pierce, that "the host of contractors, speculators, stockjobbers, and lobby members which haunt the halls of Congress ... are sufficient to alarm every friend of this country. Their progress must be arrested." Buchanan would be horrified if he were alive today. With some 20,000 lobbyists conducting business in the Washington, it's never been so easy for private interests to purchase favors in the capital.Given this situation, winning a place on the 1995 lobbying hall of shame required truly disgraceful behavior. This in no way limited the number of worthy contenders. So fierce was the competition that Washington and Christian's lobbying for the Nigerian generals wasn't sufficiently vile to merit a spot on the final list.I didn't limit my search to professional lobbyists. I also looked for flagrant cases of influence peddling on the part of members of Congress, many of whom are little more than hired guns for their campaign contributors, and on the part of think tanks, who fulfill the same role for their corporate funders.And the winners are:*10. Bacardi Rum and the Democratic Solidarity ActFor years the Bacardi Rum Co. has been seeking a means to sue Pernod Ricard, a French firm which distills rum in Bacardi's old plant in Santiago de Cuba. Working with Sen. Jesse Helms, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bacardi found opportunity with the "Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act of 1995."A key section of the bill -- and one which has no basis in international law -- would allow Cubans who fled after Fidel Castro took power in 1959 and later became American citizens to advance claims in U.S. courts on property nationalized by the Cuban government. They could even sue foreign nationals and companies which have indirectly benefited from the use of their former property.Among those drafting the Helms legislation were Ignacio Sanchez, a lawyer for Bacardi; Juan Prado, a retired Bacardi executive whose family lost $76 million when Castro took power; and Manuel Cutillas, head of Bacardi Rum Co. and of the U.S.-Cuba Business Council. Wayne Smith, former chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana and now at the Center for International Policy, dubbed the Solidarity Act the "Bacardi Claims Act."The Solidarity Act was passed by both the House and Senate, but the Bacardi-authored provision was stripped before final passage. Look for Helms and the rum maker to try again soon.Bacardi officials were unavailable for comment on the company's efforts to pass the Solidarity Act. *9. Carol Tucker Foreman and OlestraAfter serving as assistant secretary of agriculture in the Carter era, Carol Tucker Foreman founded the Safe Food Coalition. She bills herself as a tireless champion of tougher standards on inspection of meat, poultry and fish products.In 1994, it was revealed that Foreman had been discreetly lobbying on behalf of Monsanto and its controversial milk-inducing cow drug, recombinant bovine growth hormone. Last year, Foreman quietly picked up another well-heeled client: Procter & Gamble, for who her allotted cause is olestra, a fat substitute. The FDA has been reviewing olestra since the mid-1980s. If approved it will mean billions for the company.Foreman's standing as a consumer activist has served her corporate client well. She arranged for activists to attend luncheons P&G has been holding around the country, where well-known chefs whipped up meals cooked with olestra. Dieticians and nutritionists were also on hand to promote the virtues of the product. But since olestra is still not approved by the FDA, participants at these banquets were required to sign a statement freeing P&G of liability in the event of any untoward reaction.The FDA approve olestra in January of 1996. Critics charge the fat substitute reduces the body's absorption of key nutrients and that eating even small amounts can cause gastrointestinal problems.Foreman did not return phone calls to discuss her work for Procter & Gamble.*8. Heritage Foundation and Coal Mine SafetyCoal mining is still a very dangerous occupation, but thanks to the Coal Mine Safety and Health Law of 1969, it's not as bad as it used to be. Since that bill was passed, deaths from mine accidents fell by more than three-quarters, from 400 in 1969 to 84 in 1994.In the name of combating "red tape" and the "regulatory nightmare" faced by business, the Heritage Foundation would gut the law. The Foundation's labor policy analyst, Mark Wilson, urges the abolition of the Mine Safety and Health Administration and a reduction in inspections of underground mines from four to one per year. This, Wilson says bizarrely, will produce "safer work places" for miners.Not even the National Mining Association, the owners' group, backs Heritage's proposal. Its president, Richard Lawson, told the House subcommittee on workforce protection that he favored changes at the MSHA but did not want to see it eliminated.According to Colman McCarthy of The Washington Post, Wilson's appearance before the same subcommittee last August provoked laughter and groans from a group of miners who had traveled to Washington from the coal fields of Appalachia: "Many [of the miners] were attending in the back of the hearing room because scarce seats were taken by lobbyists, coal company officials and their retinues. What put the miners over the edge was a reply by the Heritage think tanker to a question from Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif): "Have you ever been in a coal mine?' Long pause. 'No.'"Reached at the Heritage Foundation, Wilson denied that he was an enemy of worker safety. "Not all businesses are bad employers," he said. "The bottom line incentive to make a business safe is stronger than any threat of an OSHA penalty." He also objected to McCarthy's column, saying that, "He didn't like my ideas, so he attacked me as a pointy head who'd never been in a mine."*7. Senator Christopher Dodd and Securities "Reform"A bitter legislative fight erupted last year over securities "reform," a measure which will make it difficult for investors to recover their money when defrauded by financial swindlers. The man most responsible for winning approval for the bill, which passed last December over President Clinton' s veto, was Sen. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, the chair of the Democratic National Committee. Dodd is the second biggest recipient of contributions from business groups pushing the securities legislation -- namely Wall Street, accountants and high-tech firms -- raking in more than $80,000 between 1991 and 1995. Last October, Ben Stein wrote an article for The American Spectator in which he recounted a conversation he had with an accountant at a Washington fundraiser:"You must love Chris Dodd," I said. "He's been fighting for you guys for a long time. You must have given him a ton of money.' 'A ton,' he said eagerly. 'But he earned it.'" Democratic support for the bill was initially tepid, but Dodd lined up at least ten votes. Dodd carries special weight with colleagues because as head of the DNC, he controls the flow of campaign money which will be made available to Democratic senators up for re-election in 1996.Ralph Nader wrote a letter to Dodd following passage of the bill, saying that even Democratic staffers were "repulsed by your hectoring demands, greased by 'tons' of political campaign contributions...You have driven the phrase 'a mess of pottage' to new lows."Dodd's spokesman, Marvin Fast, said charges that the senator was working on behalf of his campaign contributors were "absolute bunk." Fast added: "He [Dodd] took action because there was a problem in the industry. It was a bipartisan solution because people on both sides of the aisle recognized that the problem existed."*6. Edward van Kloberg and Guatemalan DemocracyEven within the amoral world of Washington lobbying, Edward J. van Kloberg III stands out for handling clients that no one else will touch. His past clients have included dictators Saddam Hussein of Iraq, Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire, Nicolae Ceausescu of Romania, and Samuel Doe of Liberia (his work for the last two abruptly ended when his clients were murdered by their own citizens).In January of 1995, the Foundation for the Development of Guatemala (FUNDESA) -- a government front group -- contracted van Kloberg to conduct a three-month, $75,000 public relations campaign on its behalf. FUNDESA was especially anxious for van Kloberg to "balance the PR campaign implemented by ... sympathizers" of Jennifer Harbury, the American woman whose husband, guerrilla leader Efrain Bamaca Velasquez, disappeared in 1992 after being captured by the armed forces. Van Kloberg's firm drafted and placed letters to the editor describing supposed strides toward democracy taking place under the current government in The New York Times, The Miami Herald, and a few other newspapers. The flacks also produced Guatemala News, a three-page newsletter targeted to Congress, the press and business leaders. The publication informed readers that guerrilla groups battling the government had been committing heinous abuses "against the civilian population," such as the imposition of road blocks and "attacks perpetrated against the electricity grid." Guatemala News somehow failed to mention that a few weeks prior to its April 1 publication date, a U.N. Verification Mission released a report on human rights in Guatemala which detailed 27 extrajudicial executions, 8 attempted executions, 10 cases of torture and 72 death threats -- all between December of 1994 and February of 1995.Unfortunately for van Kloberg's client, the timing for a PR offensive was poor. In mid-March, halfway between the contract's life span, Rep. Robert Torricelli of New Jersey revealed to the press that Guatemalan soldiers on the CIA payroll had murdered Harbury's husband. That and other disclosures produced a flood of denunciations of Guatemala in Congress and in the press.When van Kloberg was asked about the ethics of representing dictators, he faxed an old column he authored for the Journal of Commerce, "Consulting Is a Public Service," in which he argued that "lawyers represent both guilty and innocent clients. Why should a different standard be applied to public relations and government affairs counsel."*5. The Coalition to Kill MedicareSince corporations find it embarrassing to directly press for measures designed to enrich their bottom lines, business groups increasingly have taken to setting up soothingly-named front groups to lobby for their agendas. A classic example is the corporate-backed Coalition to Save Medicare, a group formed last year whose goal, needless to say, is to destroy Medicare. It proposes higher premiums for Medicare recipients and backs medical savings accounts, the plans issued by private insurers like Indianapolis-based Golden Rule, a big campaign funder for Newt Gingrich.And who are the good people working so diligently on the Medicare issue? Lurking behind the Coalition is a second level of front groups, including:* The Alliance for Managed Care, which musters big insurers like Aetna, CIGNA and Prudential.* The Healthcare Leadership Council, uniting pharmaceutical giants and hospital corporations.* The Seniors Coalition, a group founded with the support of right-wing direct-mail specialist Richard Viguerie and which was once investigated by the New York State attorney general's office for participating in a "pattern of fraud and abuse."* Citizens for a Sound Economy, an outfit which receives millions annually from corporate funders and whose top officer is David Koch, the oil and gas magnate who once ran for president on the Libertarian Party's ticket. His platform included a call to kill Medicare.Vicky Lovett, a spokeswoman for the Seniors Coalition, a member of the Coalition to Save Medicare, did not return calls seeking comment.*4. UPS and Worker SafetyAmong trucking and delivery companies United Parcel Service has the highest injury rate in the country, 15 lost time injuries per every 100 full-time workers. Since the early 1990s, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has cited the company for more than 1,300 safety violations.With such a poor record, UPS might have been expected to implement a wide-scale safety program to reduce injuries. Instead the company lobbied Congress to cut OSHA's budget and to bar the Agency from developing a long-anticipated ergonomics rule, which is intended to protect workers from repetitive stress injuries and heavy lifting.Last year UPS held 55 "meet and greet" sessions with members of Congress at its D.C. townhouse. The company's PAC -- the corporate world' s most generous -- with outlays of $3 million during the past three years - - spent about $450 for food and drink for the affairs and also gave the attending lawmaker a direct campaign contribution of $4,550, thereby hitting the maximum legal contribution of $5,000. Of 17 lawmakers on the House appropriations subcommittee who attended a "meet and greet," 16 voted with UPS on the ergonomics rider. In another effective move, UPS hired Dorothy Strunk as a consultant. She headed OSHA in 1992 when the Agency proposed its initial measures to combat repetitive strain injuries and now works to kill the guidelines that she had drafted.The House has voted with UPS to bar OSHA from issuing new ergonomics regulations. The Senate will debate a similar proposal during the next few months.Gina Ellrich, a spokeswoman at UPS's Washington, D.C., office, says her company "supports ergonomics principles," but opposes OSHA's approach. "The proposed regulation is very broad-based and without a great deal of scientific back-up," she says. "We don't think American business should be an experimental laboratory when it comes to regulation."*3. Lockheed and the F-22With the fall of the Soviet Union, big weapons manufacturers find it harder and harder to create the "national security threats" needed to justify their pointless wares. In pressing for development of its F-22 fighter, a $70-billion program, Lockheed has turned even Canada into a menacing foe.The F-22 was originally designed to penetrate deep into Soviet air space, a need made obsolete by the end of the Cold War. But Lockheed argues that the plane is still needed because of the formidable aircraft possessed by potential U.S. adversaries.The company's pro-F-22 literature lists threats to America ranging from Russian MIG-29s owned by Iraq and North Korea to Lockheed's own F-15s and F-16s held by "hostile" nations like Israel, South Korea, Turkey and Canada. In other words, Lockheed wants taxpayers to shell out billions of dollars so the U.S. can maintain air superiority against planes it has previously sold abroad. Lockheed goes so far as to boast that the F-22 can stymie the air defense radar systems installed on F-15s and F-16s.A GAO report from 1994 says that the F-22 is not needed to meet any foreseeable defense threats. Taxpayers could save $6 billion over the next five years by scrapping the plane and maintaining the F-15 as the Air Force's standard fighter."We can't predict the future thirty years from now," Jeff Rhodes, a Lockheed spokesman, said in a telephone interview. "A military dictator could take power in a country [owning Lockheed aircraft] which is currently an ally." He also said that the company was not promoting the F-22 as merely a counter to its own planes and that many hostile nations possessed Russian-made advanced aircraft.*2. Herman Cohen and Stability Under Bongo Herman Cohen, assistant secretary of state for African affairs under George Bush, lobbies for some of Africa's cruelest tyrants. In early 1995, he signed a one-year contract with the government of Gabon calling for him to handle media relations, write a monthly press release and produce a promotional brochure. His mission is to draw attention to "very concrete process of democratization and democratic reforms" brought about under President El Hadj Omar Bongo.Around the time that the deal was finalized, the State Department released its annual report on human rights practices around the globe. According to Cohen's former colleagues at State, torture in President Bongo's homeland is routine: "Eyewitnesses reported seeing prisoners tied to chairs, doused with ice water, or made to crawl on their stomachs over gravel or sun-baked asphalt."As to the "very concrete process of democratization" that has taken place under Bongo -- in power since 1967 -- the State Department report said that the December 1993 election in which Bongo triumphed with 51 percent of the vote, was "marred by serious irregularities." In Bongo's home region of Haut Ogoue, the number of votes cast for the supreme leader was greater than the population reported by the 1993 census.Soon after Cohen began his work for Gabon's leader, it was disclosed that a number of Parisian prostitutes were suing Bongo's tailor, who procured their services for the dictator without revealing that he is HIV-positive. Bongo paid up to $15,000 per night for his prostitutes. Cohen also charges stiff fees for his services. His contract calls for payments of $300,000.Cohen did not return phone calls seeking comment.*1. Robert Beckel, NTS and AT&T's Grassroots CampaignRobert Beckel is a "grassroots" lobbyist, one of the growing breed of corporate flacks who employ phone banks, letter-writing campaigns and other activist tools on behalf of their corporate clients. A big client for him last year was the Competitive Long Distance Coalition, led by AT&T, MCI and Sprint, which paid Beckel at least two million dollars to drum up opposition to a bill that would allow the Baby Bells to compete with the big long-distance carriers. With the help of NTS, a Lynchburg, Virginia-based telemarketing firm, Beckel's campaign generated 500,000 telegrams to members of Congress. There was one problem: up to half of the telegrams were faked. Many were signed by people who had never heard of the bill and others were sent by people who were dead.Beckel's entire campaign was a fraud. NTS phoned people and asked if they were in favor of "competition" in telecommunications. If the response was affirmative, NTS asked if the person would like to send a telegram, at no cost, to his or her member of Congress. To heighten the impact of the drive, NTS sent out four telegrams per person.More than 50,000 of the telegrams came from people who had previously sent a message to Congress on the issue but who were not contacted by Beckel or his subcontractor. Roughly 20,000 came from a family member of someone who had given permission for their name to be used and 8,000 were sent by people who had no idea of how or why their name was used. Twenty-seven House members wrote to the Competitive Long Distance Coalition saying that "Our constituents have been manipulated, lied to, and misrepresented...In our collective years of service none of us has ever before witnessed such reprehensible conduct." Beckel did not return phone calls seeking comment.