The Multinational Monitor


T H E I R    M A S T E R S'    V O I C E

The 1995 Lobbying
Hall of Shame

by Ken Silverstein

BACK IN 1852, President James Buchanan wrote to 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 has 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. So fierce was the competition that the lobbying firm Washington and Christian's work for the Nigerian generals wasn't sufficiently vile to merit a spot on the final list.

The Lobbying Hall of Shame is not limited to professional lobbyists. Members of Congress, many whom are little more than hired guns for their campaign contributors, and think tanks, which fulfill the same role for their corporate funders, are also eligible for flagrant cases of influence peddling.

And the winners are:


FOR 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 Senator Jesse Helms, chair 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 would allow Cubans who fled after Fidel Castro took power in 1959 and later became U.S. 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."

Bacardi officials were unavailable for comment on the company's efforts to pass the Solidarity Act.

The Solidarity Act passed the House and Senate and is now being considered in a congressional conference committee, but the Bacardi-authored provision was stripped before final passage. Look for Helms and the rum maker to try again soon.


AFTER 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 which her allotted cause is olestra, a fat substitute. If accepted by consumers, it may mean billions for the company.

Foreman's standing as a consumer activist has served her corporate client well. With the FDA winding down a review begun in the mid-1980s, she arranged for activists to attend luncheons P&G held 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.

The FDA approved olestra in mid-January 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.


COAL 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 combatting "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.

According to Colman McCarthy of The Washington Post, Wilson's congressional testimony last August provoked laughter and groans from a group of miners who had travelled to Washington from the coal fields of Appalachia: "What put the miners over the edge was a reply by the Heritage think tanker to a question from Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-California: 'Have you ever been in a coal mine?' Long pause. 'No.'"

Reached at the Heritage Foundation, Wilson denies that he is an enemy of worker safety. "Not all businesses are bad employers," he says. "The bottom line incentive to make a business safe is stronger than any threat of an OSHA penalty." He also objects 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."


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 Senator 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 10 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.

Dodd's spokesperson, Marvin Fast, says charges that the senator was working on behalf of his campaign contributors are "absolute bunk." Fast adds, "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."


EVEN 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).

Asked about the ethics of representing dictators, van Kloberg faxed an old column he authored for the Journal of Commerce, "Consulting Is a Public Service." In it, he argues that "lawyers represent both guilty and innocent clients. Why should a different standard be applied to public relations and government affairs counsel?"

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 p.r. campaign implemented by ... sympathizers" of Jennifer Harbury, the U.S. woman whose husband, guerilla 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.

Unfortunately for van Kloberg's client, the timing for a p.r. offensive was poor. In mid-March, halfway through the contract's life span, Representative 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.


SINCE CORPORATIONS SOMETIMES find it ineffective 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 of Newt Gingrich.

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; and
* 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."

Vicky Lovett, a spokesperson for the Seniors Coalition, a member of the Coalition to Save Medicare, did not return calls seeking comment.


AMONG TRUCKING AND DELIVERY COMPANIES, United Parcel Service has the highest injury rate in the country, 15 lost-time injuries per 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.

Gina Ellrich, a spokesperson 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."

To advance this view, UPS last year 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 per member 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. Strunk headed OSHA in 1992, when the Agency proposed its initial measures to combat repetitive strain injuries. Now she 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.


WITH 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 one-time purported 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 the United States 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. 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.

"We can't predict the future 30 years from now, Jeff Rhodes, a Lockheed spokesperson, says. "A military dictator could take power in a country [owning Lockheed aircraft] which is currently an ally." He also emphasizes that many hostile nations possess Russian-made advanced aircraft.

A GAO report from 1994 says that the F-22 is not needed to meet any foreseeable defense threat. 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.


HERMAN COHEN, assistant secretary of state for African affairs under George Bush, lobbies for some of Africa's cruellest tyrants. In early 1995, he signed a one-year, $300,000 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 in the State Department, torture in President Bongo's homeland is routine. 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.

Cohen did not return telephone calls seeking comment.


ROBERT BECKEL IS A "GRASS-ROOTS" LOBBYIST, one of the growing breed of corporate flacks who employ phone banks, letterwriting 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 $2 million 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.

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 telephone calls seeking comment.

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