FROM 1989 TO THE PRESENT, Mexican government and business interests have spent at least $25 million in Washington to promote the development and enactment of NAFTA. Mexico has employed a veritable phalanx of Washington law firms, lobbyists, public relations companies and consultants. This number is conservative - the cumulative total as reported to the U.S. Department of Justice. Based on statements made to the Center for Public Integrity by the most knowledgeable Mexican NAFTA official in Washington, Mexican interests will spend an additional $5 million to $10 million to promote NAFTA in 1993, bringing Mexico's total NAFTA-related expenditures in Washington to more than $30 million by the time the dust settles.
Ironically, this massive effort has been waged by a country not known for its financial robustness. Before 1990, Mexico's spending on representation in Washington was mostly to promote tourism. In the context of lobbying by foreign interests on a specific issue, Mexico has mounted the most expensive, elaborate campaign ever conducted in the United States by a foreign government.
To comprehend the sheer dimension of this effort, it should be noted that to date, pro-NAFTA expenditures by Mexican interests already exceed the combined resources of the three largest, and best-known foreign lobbying campaigns waged in Washington during the past quarter century: the operations mounted by South Korea during Koreagate, by Japanese interests during the Toshiba controversy, and by Kuwait following the Iraqi invasion.
Since 1989, to achieve maximum access to the U.S. political process, Mexican interests have hired at least 33 former U.S. government officials with experience throughout the federal government, from Congress to the White House, from the State Department to the Treasury Department. Some of those former officials include:
As a part of the unprecedented NAFTA campaign, during the past two years Mexican business interests have taken at least three members of Congress, a governor, and 48 congressional staffers on a dozen separate "fact-finding" trips to Mexico.
Two high-level appointments to the Clinton Administration, Charlene Barshefsky and Daniel Tarullo, have been paid by Mexican interests to do NAFTA-related work. But those are only the most recent Mexican connections to the Clinton administration.
After Mexico discovered George Bush might not win re-election, Bill Clinton and his thinking about NAFTA suddenly gained new urgency. Mexico began talking to Clinton campaign officials in the summer of 1992. Weeks after the election, two Clinton transition officials met with Mexico President Carlos Salinas' chief of staff, and on January 9, 1993, Salinas and Clinton met in Texas. The Mexican leader was the only head of state the President-elect saw during the transition period. At least two paid lobbyists for Mexico were on the Clinton transition team:
Just as Mexican companies are aggressively promoting NAFTA, so too are U.S. companies. The U.S. business community has created a handful of new organizations and tapped some old ones to work on gaining support for the NAFTA. Because the disclosure laws are weak, it is difficult to calculate how much U.S. corporations and trade associations are spending in their effort to gain support for NAFTA. These groups are in contact with Mexican Embassy offices in Washington, and one key organization alone, USA*NAFTA, expects to spend at least $2 million.
Canada, despite its traditionally strong lobbying presence in Washington, has not been particularly aggressive or active in its efforts to promote NAFTA. Canada, of course, already has a trade agreement with the United States. Other factors that help explain Canada's "silent partner" role in NAFTA include the political fallout that Prime Minister Brian Mulroney suffered in the aftermath of the U.S.-Canada Free Trade Agreement and Canada's current recession.
By any measure, the anti-NAFTA forces have been financially "out-gunned" by the Mexicans and the U.S. business community in this lobbying effort - because of the poor quality of existing public records and lax disclosure requirements it is impossible to gauge by precisely how much. But this motley collection of environmental and consumer groups, labor unions and conservative business organizations to date have spent a fraction of what NAFTA proponents have spent. In terms of grass-roots organization, NAFTA's opponents have millions of people's names on mailing lists, but it is unclear to what extent they have been contacted or organized regarding NAFTA. Meanwhile, the AFL-CIO has organized a few trips to Mexico for members of Congress, and three organizations which receive at least some labor money - the Economic Policy Institute, the Economic Strategy Institute and the Congressional Economic Leadership Institute - have sponsored fact-finding trips to Mexico for members of Congress. Finally, in terms of both money and organization, the entry into the fray of billionaire former presidential candidate Ross Perot has markedly shifted the power equation and makes the legislative outcome of NAFTA somewhat less predictable.
At the most superficial level, as a general matter, when huge sums of money are injected in to the political process, democracy usually becomes distorted. People or groups without the wherewithal to obtain influence and access to the corridors of power find themselves in effect disenfranchised.
Author William Greider has written about a sophisticated form of political planning he calls "deep lobbying," the purpose of which is to define public argument and debate. "It is another dimension of mock democracy - a system that has all the trappings of free and political discourse but is shaped and guided at a very deep level by the resources of the most powerful interests."
How does all of this relate to NAFTA? For starters, the debate is about something called the North American Free Trade Agreement. Not only have powerful interests managed to make their agenda America's agenda, they've even been able to help define public perceptions by labeling it with a positive-sounding name.
For years, the logic, the assumptions and the seeming inevitability of NAFTA have been carefully constructed - by prominent business interests in the three respective countries, their elected, responsive government officials and their legions of paid representatives. Getting presidents and prime ministers to think and talk about NAFTA, getting the trade negotiators together to hammer out the logistics, controlling how the actual agreement will be disseminated and thus described to the public and girding for battle legislatively, all require substantial sums of money and hired Washington insiders. But for the NAFTA proponents, it has been worth it, because the parameters of the political discourse and debate have been set, leaving the other side at a serious disadvantage.
Except for some token memberships on a few trade advisory committees, the more modestly-funded anti-NAFTA forces frequently have been ignored, reduced to the reactive role of eleventh-hour yammering naysayers. Because of deep lobbying, the NAFTA opponents automatically become trivialized as almost caricature-like figures, mere props in the trading game.
In the end, not only has the massive infusion of money one again distorted democracy, it has undermined the public's confidence and trust in the integrity of the decision-making process.
NAFTA was negotiated in secret, and by North America's largest corporations, among them many of its worst polluters...
NUMBER OF BUSINESS REPRESENTATIVES SERVING AS TRADE ADVISORS TO THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION DURING NAFTA NEGOTIATIONS: 117
NUMBER OF ENVIRONMENTAL AND CONSUMER GROUPS REPRESENTATIVES SERVING AS TRADE ADVISORS TO THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION DURING NAFTA NEGOTIATIONS: 1
NUMBER OF COMPANIES SERVING AS NAFTA ADVISORS LISTED IN EPA'S TOXIC RELEASE INVENTORY AS THE 10 BIGGEST DISCHARGERS OF HAZARDOUS WASTE IN AMERICA: 5
Source: the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
PERCENTAGE OF AMERICANS WHO, ACCORDING TO A JULY CNN/USA/GALLUP POLL, OPPOSE NAFTA: 65 PERCENT
LENGTH OF NAFTA TEXT: 2000 PAGES
HOURS CONGRESS HAS UNDER THE FAST-TRACK APPROVAL PROCESS TO DEBATE NAFTA: 20
AMOUNT ESTIMATED BY THE LA TIMES THAT THE MEXICAN GOVERNMENT WILL SPEND LOBBYING FOR NAFTA: $100 MILLION
Source: the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy