They claim to be 'centrists,' but these D.C. Dems -- whose corporate
agendas aren't too different from Bush administration policies -- are living
proof that the system needs fixing.
The media like a simple story line -- and Joe Lieberman's defeat in the Connecticut
Senate primary fits the bill: Pro-war senator goes down. Anti-war progressives
ascendant, Republicans gleeful, and so forth. But Lieberman is more than an
ally in the Bush administration's dissembling on Iraq. He is yet another example
of someone who came to Washington as a purported idealist and turned into a
creature of the capital's big-money culture. Lieberman's loss is a loss for
Cheney and Rumsfeld to be sure, but it's also a loss for an army of sleazy political
operatives and consultants.
While Lieberman is best known outside of Washington for his neocon views, he's
famous in the capital for his undying support for corporate causes. There are
countless examples: Remember Lieberman's role in blocking the reforms of stock
option accounting that former SEC chair Arthur Levitt was trying to enact? This
was a question of honest accounting that became part and parcel of the corporate
corruption scandals of recent years, and Lieberman was a champion of the wrong
Beyond that, Lieberman happily has done the bidding of the pharmaceutical companies,
the insurance companies and many others, thus establishing an unsavory underside
to his more admirable record on environmental and other issues. And of course,
his support of and continued rationalization of the Iraq invasion, like many
of Lieberman's other stances, has served chiefly to benefit large corporations,
in this case the "national security/homeland defense" industry that
got a huge boost from Bush's reckless military adventurism. It's no great surprise
to learn that Karl Rove called Lieberman the other day after his loss, and described
him as a "friend."
Lieberman and his defenders have tried to portray his brand of politics as
"centrism." But it has little to do with mainstream voters and much
to do with the money culture of Washington of which many Democrats have become
a part. And yet, Ralph Nader is wrong in his blanket condemnations of Democrats:
You still are more likely to find someone willing to stand up to the big money
boys among Democrats than Republicans. But the gap is narrowing. Voters sense
How big a problem is the growing influence of the bipartisan Beltway Party?
Details on this can be found in a report from the Real
News Project, a new nonprofit noncommercial investigative reporting outfit
I founded. RealNews examined the track records of prominent Washington Democrats,
consultants, advertising and public relations executives, lobbyists, attorneys
and the like who have close connections to the top circles of their party. Many
of them served in the Clinton-Gore White House, and many of them will likely
be tapped should a Democrat be elected in 2008 and have considerable influence
in a future Democratic-controlled Congress.
We scrutinized scores of Washington Dems and found many ensconced in firms
working to advance corporate agendas that don't look that different from policy
we see emanating from the Bush administration. To be sure, many of these people
have redeeming qualities, represent some admirable causes as well, and may personally
harbor inclinations for the greater good. Yet, in trying to earn a handsome
living in Washington, they apparently do what a person's gotta do. Can political
success and influence be attained without working for The Man? Let's defer that
debate for another time and start with a few facts.
First, let's check in with Mike McCurry, President Clinton's former press secretary.
He's a partner at the firm Public Strategies Washington, Inc., and serves as
chairman of Hands Off the Internet -- an outfit created by telecom companies
such as AT&T and BellSouth which, paradoxically, want to put their hands
ON the internet by creating what amounts to internal tariffs on internet traffic
for large downloads and such. The hands that are supposed to stay off are those
of regulators or legislators who want to keep the internet free.
Want Clinton? Over at a "strategic communications" company founded
in 2001, you've got enough Friends of Bubba to fill a VW bug. There's McCurry's
successor as Clinton spokesman Joe Lockhart, and Al Gore's top strategists Carter
Eskew and Michael Feldman. There's Howard Wolfson, former spokesman for Hillary
Clinton and executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
And Joel Johnson, senior adviser for policy and communications to President
When an election pops up, nearly the entire top brass rush to work on it. Lockhart
and Wolfson, for example, took leaves in 2004 to work on the Kerry campaign
and at the DNC. Johnson went from another firm to the Kerry campaign, then joined
Glover Park.This mixture of politics and business seems to be working, because
in 2005, the firm was ranked the fastest-growing private company in the District
What business, you ask? Even before Glover Park, Eskew, who has done media
work for Sens. Chris Dodd, Joe Lieberman, and Tom Harkin, and is close to Senate
Minority Leader Harry Reid, was criticized for his work providing media advice
to the tobacco industry. This time around, Eskew has been working again for
Among Glover Park's clients: Rupert Murdoch, who paid Glover Park about $200,000
for work to block TV ratings changes that could harm ad revenues at his Fox
Broadcasting (the attempt was unsuccessful). Glover also got a large retainer
for PR work and organizing groups against the plan (including the Don't Count
Us Out coalition, which initially gave the impression it was an independent
group representing the interests of people of color but turns out to represent
mostly one Australian media buccaneer by the initials R.M.) Is it a coincidence
that Murdoch's New York Post went from gleefully pillorying Hillary to praising
her and attacking her critics and opponents?
Other firm clients have included the government of Turkey; Think About It (another
faux-grassroots outfit waging an unsuccessful campaign to allow casino gambling
in Maine); Microsoft (handled media inquiries about Microsoft's ties to Jack
Abramoff's lobbying team); the Pentagon; Asbestos Study Group (an industry coalition
formed to fight for limits on asbestos-related lawsuits); the Coalition to Preserve
DSHEA (wants to continue making health claims for food supplements without scientific
backing; multilevel marketing firms love this, most health and consumer groups
don't); and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA),
undoubtedly big fans of making prescription drugs more affordable.
How small a world is this cozy micro-universe? Lets take a Quinntessential
Jack Quinn served as Vice President Gore's chief of staff
and later as counsel to President Clinton. In January 2000, he left what was
still a Democratic White House and formed Quinn Gillespie with Ed Gillespie,
a Republican and close friend of Tom DeLay. This firm was among the pioneers
of the one-stop-shopping approach that has since swept Washington. Want to influence
the legislative process? Now you can get right to the top of both parties by
hiring a single firm.
Quinn Gillespie has represented clients who want to drill in fragile areas
of Alaska, put the screws to already beleaguered American creditors, and prevent
the introduction of more healthy dairy substitutes in school lunches. Quinn
helped secure a controversial pardon for the fugitive financier Marc Rich as
Clinton was leaving office.
Firm clients have included: Enron; the American Petroleum Institute (supported
lifting federal ban on offshore drilling on the outer continental shelf, including
Alaska; opposed raising taxes on oil companies); the Alliance for Quality Nursing
Home Care (which of course is actually the notorious nursing home industry --
the Alliance was indicted in late 2004 for a $100,000 illegal contribution to
DeLay's PAC); the Partnership to Protect Consumer Credit (which wants to preempt
tougher state and local laws designed to protect consumers); the International
Dairy Foods Association (which opposes the introduction of more healthful dairy
substitutes in school lunches); "Ax the Double Tax" coalition (which
in truth prefers no taxes at all, but if they must exist, would like corporations
to be able to repatriate foreign subsidiary profits at a lower tax rate); Bank
of America (fighting stricter consumer data-protection legislation proposed
after big data breach at BOA).
Perhaps the coziness is most poetically illustrated by the fact that there
is another Jack Quinn in the same business, but, in a perfect reversal of Jack
Quinn #1, he is a Republican paired with a Democrat. The increased Dem-Republican
cooperation (perhaps 'cooptation' is a better term) is reflected in remarks
by yet a third Quinn, Thomas Quinn (no relation to either Jack Quinn). Here's
what he says about the work of his firm, Venable LLC, applies to the whole politically
neutral K Street scene today: "Here we work very collegially, and I've
gotten more collegial as there are more Republicans. We work closely with Republicans.
All of us are in this together."
Thomas Quinn has been active in Democratic politics from Sen. Edward Kennedy's
(D-Mass.) presidential run in 1980 to Sen. John Kerry's (D-Mass.) in 2004. He's
a key player on financial services, taxation and homeland security issues. Venable's
clients have included: Wal-Mart, Tsakopoulos Investments (Wal-Mart-connected
real estate developer opposing Endangered Species Act restrictions) and McWane
(Birmingham, Ala.-based cast iron pipe manufacturer whose executives were convicted
in federal court of environmental crimes).
Mark Penn was a principal pollster for Bill Clinton. He continues
to do work for Hillary Rodham Clinton. He is Burson-Marsteller's worldwide chief
executive. Burson practically invented the concept of faux-grassroots organizations
(known in the trade as "astroturf") that were no more than fronts
for corporations and industries pushing embarrassing products and agendas. For
example, Burson created the "National Smokers Alliance," a purportedly
grassroots movement for smokers rights, on behalf of its client Altria (Philip
Morris Tobacco) and later funded the Center for Individual Freedom Foundation
(advocates for "smaller government and greater personal liberties,"
led by a former B-M exec), which has lobbied to block obesity-related lawsuits
against fast-food restaurants. One of B-M's clients is McDonald's (recent ad
campaigns have sought to give the fast-food chain a healthier image by promoting
exercise and balanced diets), which has been the target of several such lawsuits.
According to consumer advocate John Stauber, B-M employees spied on opponents
and critics of genetically engineered cow growth hormones when the firm was
working for the companies developing the hormones.
Other B-M clients have included major pharmaceutical companies (advised Johnson
& Johnson after the Tylenol tampering crisis; launched a "corporate
reputation campaign" for Merck after its blockbuster arthritis drug Vioxx
was pulled off the market); Royal Dutch Shell (charged with a massive financial
fraud in a U.S. class action lawsuit brought by the UNITE National Retirement
Fund and the Plumbers and Pipefitters National Pension Fund); the Iraqi National
Congress (of the controversial Ahmad Chalabi); Dow Chemical (Dow has refused
to compensate the victims of the 1984 Bhopal disaster in India, a liability
it inherited when it took over Union Carbide.)
Bill Andresen is senior vice president in charge of federal
lobbying at Dutko Worldwide. Part of Harry Reid's K Street Cabinet, he served
as chief of staff to Sen. Joe Lieberman, and has worked with the centrist Democratic
Leadership Council and Third Way, an advocacy group for centrist Democrats,
which is pushing for closer ties to business.
Firm clients have included: York Capital Management (an investor in distressed
companies with an interest in minimizing asbestos liability); the Ephedra Committee
of the American Herbal Products Association (the controversial Ephedra was blamed
in the deaths of scores of people, the best known being Baltimore Orioles pitcher
Steve Bechler); the Personal Watercraft Industry Association (wants to assure
the right to use wave runners and other motorized vehicles on lakes and rivers
and in national parks); the American Chemical Council (oppose efforts to control
pollution and protect public health from toxic chemicals, and push the U.S.
government to oppose EU efforts to test chemicals sold in Europe for health
and environmental risks), and General Dynamics (a huge defense and "homeland
Michael Berman has played a key role in every Democratic convention
since 1968. He's president of the eminently bipartisan Duberstein Group; his
boss, Kenneth Duberstein, is a former chief of staff to President Reagan. Firm
clients have included Comcast (nation's largest cable operator; uses aggressive
anti-union tactics, trying to block cities from providing cheap wireless internet
access; censored political issue ads it didn't like); DeBeers (hired to protect
the interests of the huge international diamond mining/trading company as Congress
considered legislation that would strengthen bans against the sale of so-called
"conflict diamonds" that fund civil wars in parts of Africa); Arthur
Andersen (Enron accounting scandal), and something called "Americans for
Accountability" (lobbying disclosures for this "accountability"
group say it is interested in educational reform but unaccountably does not
show up in article database searches or search engines); the oil companies Conoco,
Amerada Hess, and USX/Marathon (firms that supported lifting economic sanctions
against Libya, named as a state sponsor of terror, to gain access to Libya's
vast oil reserves); the Business Roundtable (big business super-lobby; goals
include social security privatization, elimination of class action suits, and
opposing mandatory reductions of greenhouse emissions).
Leslie Dach, a former media consultant for Bill Clinton, former
senior advisor for communication for the Democratic National Committee and the
Kerry for President Campaign in 2004, and a lobbyist for the Environmental Defense
Fund. He's vice president of Edelman World-Wide and heads Edelman's Corporate
Social Responsibility (CSR) practice where his role has included defending Edelman
PR's relationship with tobacco companies, despite the company's pledge not to
represent tobacco companies. Clients of his CSR practice include TotalFinaElf
(an oil conglomerate with interests in Sudan and investments in Burma that provide
revenues to the country's oppressive military regime), and the foods giant Kraft
(owned by tobacco company Altria, it is trying to improve its image and convince
the public it is not aggressive in marketing junk foods to kids; the company
makes, among other things, Oreos, Chips Ahoy! and Kool-Aid). Dach was architect
of Wal-Mart's "rapid-response war room" designed to preempt and counterattack
criticism of the company from labor, environmental and small business critics.
Say hi to Phil Goldberg of the firm of Shook, Hardy and Bacon.
Goldberg served as an aide to several Democratic members of Congress. Before
coming to Shook Hardy, he headed the litigation communications section of D.C.
public relations firm Ketchum (run by former GOP House star Susan Molinari,
it's the outfit that channeled $240,000 from the Bush administration to Armstrong
Williams, the prominent African-American radio and television personality, for
his support for the president's No Child Left Behind project). Promotional materials
say that Goldberg "educates the public and other important audiences of
client issues. Through his work, Phil has become an emerging voice in the moderate
wing of the Democratic Party."
Goldberg personally represents the National Restaurant Association (objectives
include making it more difficult to sue over obesity-related issues and opposition
to consumer group efforts for greater truth in labeling). Firm clients have
included the Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers (on medical malpractice
liability and opposing class actions); Animal Health Institute (on limiting
pet medicine manufacturers' liability for animal health); Philip Morris/Altria
(limiting liability in class-action suits); Coalition for Litigation Justice
(insurance industry lobby group seeking to limit liability in asbestos and silica
cases). The firm was named by the International Who's Who of Business Lawyers
2005 as "the world's leading firm for product liability defense expertise."
There's Anthony Podesta, not to be confused with his brother,
John Podesta (Bill Clinton's final chief of staff and founder of the liberal
Center for American Progress; John also did occasional lobbying for Podesta
Mattoon until 2003)*. Another bipartisan wonder of a firm, employing the son
of Republican House Speaker Denny Hastert. Firm clients have included major
pharmaceutical firms; Vehicle Renting and Leasing Alliance ( opposed holding
rental companies liable for injury, death or property damage arising from renter
or lessee's negligence); U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (lobbying
to allow Made in USA labels on garments produced at levels below U.S. minimum
wages); Pacific Open Markets Coalition (ditto) , Coalition for Fair and Affordable
Lending (nonprime mortgage lenders who oppose state and local laws designed
to protect consumers); Altria (Philip Morris Tobacco).
Remember Jody Powell, Jimmy Carter's press secretary? He now
hangs his shingle with Sheila Tate, who was Nancy Reagan's press secretary.
Together, they run a crisis management and PR firm that has gone through too
many ownership changes and renamings to be sure what it will be called when
you read this. Try Powell Tate/Weber Shandwick.
Firm clients have included: the Saudi Economic and Development Co. (whose projects
must comply with Islamic law); Crusader Industrial Alliance (lobbied Congress
and the Pentagon not to terminate the Crusader self-loading cannon system, which
critics called outdated); the Alliance for Better Foods (created to promote
public acceptance and to oppose labeling of genetically modified foods); Hooters
of America (not clear if Hooters complies with Islamic law); Food Lion (which
gained notoriety when an ABC News hidden camera report revealed shocking labor
and sanitary practices in its supermarkets); Americans for Safe & Efficient
Transportation (opposing tough state clean air standards); the Japanese Whaling
Association; the New Zealand government-owned logging company Timberlands
(was involved in controversial rain forest logging on public lands).
In terms of political correctness dba making money, it's hard to top Ingrid
Duran and Catherine M. Pino, political and personal
partners who appear to take advantage of their identity as Latina Lesbians to
play in D.C.'s power sweepstakes.
Duran held several positions on Capitol Hill, served on Clinton's Advisory
Committee on HIV/AIDS and was president of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus
Institute (CHCI) for six years. Pino worked in the foundation world and for
a Democratic senator, and served on the board of the Congressional Hispanic
Today, they are partners in D&P Creative Strategies, whose motto is "Consulting
with a Social Conscience." Among other things, it gives corporations advice
on fostering an improved image through philanthropy, outreach to communities
of color, etc. Firm clients include: Wal-Mart; Comcast (nation's largest cable
operator; uses aggressive anti-union tactics, trying to block cities from providing
cheap wireless internet access, censored political issue ads it didn't like);
Sodexho (huge French-owned military food contractor, facing class action suit
by black employees over racial discrimination in hiring and promoting practices).
And this is merely a sampling. For those wishing to read of still more Democratic
consultants who have joined the Beltway Party, check out the full
[*This article originally stated that John Podesta does occasional lobbying
for Podesta Mattoon, which is incorrect. Podesta occasionally lobbied for Podesta
Mattoon until 2003. The article has been corrected to reflect this.]
Russ Baker is a freelance journalist and essayist. He
is the founder of the Real News Project.
Read from Looking Glass News
biggest con: Democrats & Republicans work together to destroy America, part
1 of 3
biggest con: Democrats & Republicans work together to destroy America, part
2 of 3
The biggest con: Democrats & Republicans work together to destroy America,
part 3 of 3
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