After the voter ID ruling, progressives try to reclaim politics for ordinary people
Tis the bleak post-Citizens United season in America—money equals speech, and corporations, super PACs, and an egregiously wealthy minority have the biggest mouths in the land. But the oligarchs’ work is never done. After the elections are bought, it’s back to the business of business—and, presumably, consuming yacht-loads of caviar and foie gras. Maximizing profit demands that high-powered lobbyists grease the wheels of legislation or grind them to a shrieking halt—whichever yields the highest return.
For your edutainment, below is a list of some of the most depraved lobbyists money can buy.
9) Chris Dodd
The former Connecticut Senator, and internationally renowned eyebrow-haver, isn’t the most prodigious scum in the Beltway swamp, but he may be the most hypocritical. When asked in 2010 what would follow his thirty-year legislative career, which ended amid financial scandal, Dodd bluntly said, “No lobbying, no lobbying.” He then promptly became, as The Hill put it, “Hollywood’s leading man in Washington, taking the most prestigious job on K Street,” as chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America. The gig comes with a $1.2 million annual salary, and complimentary tickets to the Academy Awards.
Dodd’s most public, and ultimately ill-fated, advocacy was in pushing two potentially disastrous bills: the Stop Online Piracy Act, and its Senate counterpart, Protect IP Act—both of which would’ve given the federal government the right to shut down any website that was merely being accused of copyright infringement. The bills were shelved indefinitely after a massive online protest in which thousands of sites went voluntarily dark for a day. Dodd unironically called the blackout an “irresponsible . . . abuse of power.” So it’s OK for the Feds to make your site go black, but it’s not OK for you to do it yourself. Dodd doesn’t want you to post the Jack and Jill movie trailer to warn Americans of the danger. Because every time someone sees an Adam Sandler film, the terrorists win.
8) Billy Tauzin
The former Louisiana Congressman’s lobbying career functionally began before he left Capitol Hill. In 2003, as one of his final acts as chair of the committee that oversees the pharmaceutical industry, he brazenly extended a fifteen-minute vote on the Medicare Modernization Act so the industry-authored bill, which prohibited the federal government from negotiating drug prices, could pass quietly in the night.
And ditto that for the awful Medicare Part D fine-tuning in ’05. So when Tauzin resigned from Congress soon after and landed a $2 million-a-year position as president and CEO of the drug-lobbying Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), it was shocking—that he waited an entire month. (As recently reported by journalist Lee Fang, when Congress-creatures become lobbyists, they secure a 1,452 percent raise, on average.)
Along with Karen Ignagni, CEO of America’s Health Insurance Plans, Tauzin is as responsible as anyone for killing any hope that the purportedly “socialist” Obammercare would be a single-payer system or include a public option (for this Tauzin earned a handy $11.6 million in the first half of 2010 alone). They were literally the people meeting with the President behind closed doors before the plan was announced.
Tauzin left PhRMA in 2010, and has since completed the cycle of greed as a board member of the Louisiana Healthcare Group, which specializes in selling mandatory broccoli.
7) Richard Berman
In the Venn diagram representing lobbying, public relations, and shameless evil, Berman occupies the balding overlap. An anti-labor-lawyer-cum-anti-labor evangelist, the sole proprietor of the PR firm Berman and Associates has earned the nickname “Astroturf Kingpin” for repeatedly forming phony, industry-funded nonprofits to spread his clients’ falsehoods. Dubbed “the booze and food industries’ weapon of mass destruction” by 60 Minutes, Berman’s clients include the usual restaurant, alcohol, tobacco, and living-wage-averse service industry suspects, with the front groups bearing creepy Orwellian names like the Minimum Wage Coalition to Save Jobs.
According to a 2006 USA Today profile, Berman’s firm pulls in an annual $10 million, but “only Berman and his bookkeeper wife” know how much of that goes directly into their pockets.
America got a good look at Berman’s latest disingenuously named effort, the Center for Union Facts, when it debuted an ad called “Employee Rights Act: Repair Shop” during the Super Bowl, one in a series about the legislation. “I’m sick of the union taking so much money out of every paycheck,” laments an actor. The shop boys go on to complain that they never even voted for the union.
The key “union fact” conveniently omitted, of course, is that without those unions they’d be working the weekend for slave wages and getting carpal tunnel syndrome. But the only fact that Berman really cares about is the fact that he gets paid.
6) Tony Podesta
Inflate former Clinton chief of staff and current Center for American Progress head honcho with—more?—hot air and—definitely more!—lard, and you get his bloated brother Tony.
While John’s kept the revolving door spinning, Tony’s held the fort at the Podesta Group, the lobbying firm they founded in the late ’80s.
And with John having been a member of Obama’s transition team, and manning the helm of arguably the most influential think tank on a President since the Heritage Foundation replaced Reagan’s brain with an Atari console, Tony’s been a formidable player on K Street during this Administration. He even purchased the insipid Shepard Fairey “Hope” print to demonstrate allegiance.
The Podesta Group’s client list reads like a who’s who of awfulness—Bank of America, Mubarak’s Egypt, British Petroleum, and nearly every other military and for-profit health care conglomerate known to man (and let’s not forget the bailed-out likes of General Motors). The firm’s yearly income jumped from a relatively meager $10 million in ’07 to nearly $30 million under Obama.
A frequent White House and Capitol Hill visitor, Tony is the kind of brazen corporate mouthpiece who can say things like “everyone has a lobbyist” and somehow manage not to vomit all over himself.
5) Haley Barbour
When not hanging out with white supremacists, being governor to the poorest state of the union, or pardoning scores of murderers for no apparent reason, Barbour has been primarily a tobacco industry lobbyist (in 2001, Barbour Griffith & Rogers LLC was paid over $17,000 a month, plus expenses, by RJ Reynolds alone). In downplaying the massive BP oil spill, by claiming the environmental disaster proves that the free market (somehow) works, he was simply doing what comes natural: trying to convince people that obvious poison is not toxic, and victims should have no right to sue.
His deep tobacco ties also explain why he enacted among the strictest tort reform measures in the nation, refused to raise taxes on cigarettes, and tried to kill his state’s youth-smoking-prevention program.
Before his second term even ended, Barbour joined Karl Rove’s American Crossroads super PAC—probably for his legendary fundraising prowess (proven while head of the Republican Governors Association), and less for his striking resemblance to both Joe Camel and a butter sculpture of William Shatner.
4) Michael Toscano
As one of the top lobbyists for the drone trade group Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), Toscano has played a pernicious, if obscure, role in shaping federal legislation as obscure as it is pernicious.
The organization’s lobbying budget more than doubled last year, reaching $280,000, and it helped create the Congressional Unmanned Systems Caucus, piloted by Representatives Buck McKeon, Republican of California, and Henry Cuellar, Democrat of Texas.
Its persistent efforts paid off in the form of the FAA Reauthorization Act, which flew through Congress on bipartisan wings in February and promises to unleash an estimated 30,000 spy drones into U.S. airspace in the next eight years so that local and federal law enforcement can track suspects (because the Fourth Amendment is SO out right now).
In a PowerPoint presentation dug up by Republic Report, the drone lobbying group bragged that in requesting language changes to the FAA House bill, its “suggestions were often taken word-for-word.” In the same presentation, the group predicted that the domestic unmanned drone market will soon outpace the military, despite exponential growth in that murderous sector. It also acknowledged that the industry’s main impediment to unbridled profit will be “civil liberties.” Stupid freedoms, always hurting our unmanned job creators.
3) John Lovell
A prohibition-industrial-complex luminary, Lovell is a major reason Californians can’t legally smoke jazz-tobacco (as goes California, so goes the criminally stoned nation). In a 2010 interview with Time, he claimed his crusade against the state’s Proposition 19 (a.k.a. the Regulate, Control & Tax Cannabis Act) was based on moral grounds, but his firm’s nearly $400K draw from various police unions offers a far more believable motivation.
Lovell managed the anti-pot effort, launching a Reefer Madness-esque propaganda campaign, organizing hippieless rallies, and disseminating Glenn Beck-crazy conspiracy theories about George Soros because the philanthropist donated $1 million to the legalization effort.
As Prop. 19 ultimately suffered a slim defeat at the ballot, a business necessity for Lovell, he was concurrently acting as the war on drugs’ Matthew Lesko by teaching local law enforcement how to score big federal grant and stimulus money—today!
He successfully represented two police unions in a bid to funnel $10 million in taxpayer cash to two draconian programs resulting in a flurry of new police hires, overtime, expensive surveillance toys, and an unjustifiable amount of victimless prosecutions.
Lovell is waging a war in which hundreds of thousands of Americans lose, so that the nation’s fat blue line can buy that sweet boat they think will get them laid.
2) Edward Yingling
There’s a plethora of dodgy financial tools used by Wall Street to fleece the American public, but Yingling may be the biggest. He’s been the American Bankers Association’s top lobby-dog for more than twenty years.
There’s not been a poverty-creating financial deregulation to wend its way through the ever-complicit Congress in the past quarter-century that hasn’t been covered in Yingling’s dirty fingerprints. In 1999, he unashamedly called the Glass-Steagall repeal (the Depression-era law that separated investment and commercial banks) “the most important piece of financial services legislation in over sixty years,” which could “save consumers $15 billion a year.” Legalizing insane gambles, like collateralized debt obligations and mortgage-backed securities, was important to his too-big-to-fail clients (like Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase), which, along with the rest of the banking industry, spend roughly $100 million a year lobbying.
Naturally, when the TARP hit the fan, the Bankers Association was pushing for the bailout as fiercely as anyone. When Dodd-Frank was being severely watered down, Yingling was there with a very large bucket.
And Obama’s proposed Consumer Financial Protection Bureau? Well, it threatens to sever the connection between “consumer protection and safety and soundness,” Yingling told Congress.
He doesn’t earn more than $2 million a year to make sense.
1) Jack N. Gerard
As president and CEO of the American Petroleum Institute, Gerard spews nearly as much pollution as the 400 fossil fuel-extracting companies he represents. The group spent almost $8 million of its $200 million budget in 2010 (Gerard banked $6.5 million in the same year) actively lobbying against any and all environmental regulations. The rest goes to slick front groups, disinformation campaigns, contributing to evil pols (future lobbyists) and eviler groups (like Americans for Prosperity and ALEC), and funding bunk science to undercut public understanding of climate change. Taking their cues from an earlier generation of tobacco industry doubt merchants, a still-relevant 1998 Petroleum Institute internal memo reads: “Victory will be achieved when . . . citizens ‘understand’ uncertainties in climate science . . . [and] recognition of uncertainties becomes part of the ‘conventional wisdom.’ ”
While acting as the head of the National Mining Association in ’01, Gerard served on Dick Cheney’s largely secretive fossil fuel welfare program known as the Energy Task Force, which makes his ’08 declaration to The Washington Post that the industry’s activities should be “more transparent” ring particularly hollow. As he’s bounced from one hated industry to another, Gerard’s one true talent lies in lying.
Gerard’s lie du jour is that “we need more American energy”—whether it comes from wildly unsafe, faucet-burning hydrofracking, opening pristine wilderness to drilling-baby-drilling, or pumping incredibly dirty tar sands crude in from Canada along the Keystone pipeline. The lie is that the only “we” involved are multinational conglomerates. We get nothing out of the deal, while “we” are subsidized to pilfer the American commons and sell booty on the global market.
Ian Murphy is the editor of The BEAST (buffalobeast.com).