Last fall we issued a report on conflicts on interest in the Syria debate, wherein we tracked the defense industry ties of 22 expert commentators and 7 think tanks who commented on military intervention in Syria. With the uptick in expert analysis on how/if/when the US should respond to the situation in Ukraine we will inevitably see many of the same experts weigh in. In fact we already are.
Today Nicholas Burns was quoted in a New York Times article, “Pressure Rising as Obama Works to Rein in Russia,” and described as “a career diplomat” and “under secretary of state in the George W. Bush administration”:
“It’s the most important, most difficult foreign-policy test of his presidency,” said R. Nicholas Burns, a career diplomat who became under secretary of state in the George W. Bush administration. ”The stakes are very high for the president because he is the NATO leader. There’s no one in Europe who can approach him in power. He’s going to have to lead.”
Nick Burns was an avid commentator during the debates on US intervention in Syria and seems to have carried his disclosure issues into this debate. Burns is a Senior Counselor at the Cohen Group, which boasts a robust defense and homeland security practice and has counted Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, and United Technologies among its lobbying clients. He is also a director of Entegris, a manufacturing company that provides materials for Aerospace applications, and a board member of the Atlantic Council, which receives financial donations from defense industry heavy-hitters including SAIC, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Boeing, and General Dynamics.
As the situation in Ukraine advances we expect we’ll be busy reporting more defense industry ties of experts who feel more comfortable pontificating on sensitive national security issues than on disclosing their own interests.
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Last week, Senator Chuck Schumer recused himself from further oversight of the Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger after we reported that his brother had played a key role in the deal. Schumer had initially called the merger “a good deal for New York.” His office later claimed that the Senator had not known that his brother was involved.
Schumer’s recusal raises an important question: as a powerful Senator, a member of the antitrust subcommittee, and the brother of a top M&A attorney, is this the first time he recused himself from oversight of a merger deal? His brother has been a key dealmaker on many mergers which required antitrust approval, and several have triggered regulatory action – in the US and abroad. Schumer’s office has not responded to multiple requests for information about past recusals. A Senate Judiciary Committee official turned up no past recusals in a review, but suggested that Schumer’s office would be a better source.
In any case, Robert Schumer did not put together the merger that really caught our eye – his wife did. Pamela Seymon, the Senator’s sister-in-law, was Ticketmaster’s lead outside counsel on its 2009 merger with Live Nation, a $2.5 billion deal which drew the ire of consumer groups, musicians, and lawmakers. Initially, Schumer opposed the merger. Then he seemed to have a change of heart, and began lauding Ticketmaster for collaborating with him on legislation targeting the ticket resale market. On the antitrust implications of the deal, he went silent.
Yesterday we reported that Senator Chuck Schumer, who called the Comcast-Time Warner Cable “a good deal” for New York, has ties to one of the key dealmakers involved – his brother, Robert Schumer, was Time Warner Cable’s lead outside attorney on the deal.
Our report prompted Senator Schumer, who sits on the antitrust subcommittee, to recuse himself from further consideration of the deal. Schumer’s communications director, Matt House, provided this statement to the Huffington Post:
Following news of the Comcast-Time Warner Cable deal, key members of Congress promised to take a close look at the merger. Some, like Senator Al Franken, sharply criticized the deal and what it would mean for consumers. Senator Amy Klobuchar, the chair of the antitrust subcommittee, announced plans for a hearing to “scrutinize the details of this merger and its potential consequences for both consumers and competition.”
All it took to reassure Senator Chuck Schumer that the deal was a good thing was a quick phone call over to Comcast executives, who were happy to offer vague assurances about continued jobs commitments in New York State.
Schumer is a member of the Senate Judiciary’s antitrust subcommittee, like Franken and Klobuchar, but made no mention of antitrust or consumer issues in a lengthy press release announcing that he had spoken to Comcast executives.
Last month former SEC Chair Mary Schapiro made an unexpected change to her employment in the private sector, moving from an executive position to an advisory role at Promontory Financial, the regulatory consulting firm that both services Wall Street’s compliance needs and serves at the top tier revolving door destination for former financial regulators. While it was Schapiro’s initial move to Promontory that sparked murmurings about the regulatory revolving door, her decision to move out of what was surely a lucrative position within the company is curious. The New York Times‘ Deal Book reported that while at Promontory, Schapiro imposed tight regulations on herself, pledging to never represent a client before a government agency:
And after spending her entire career as a regulator — at the S.E.C., the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, Wall Street’s self-regulatory group — Ms. Schapiro privately remarked to friends that consulting work was not the right fit.
Schapiro’s self-imposed standards are notable as the Promontory model clearly relies on hiring ex-regulators to work for businesses they once had oversight over, and to represent those businesses before regulatory agencies where they used to work.
In September PAI released a report detailing the defense industry ties of commentators and think tanks who were active in debating intervention in Syria, including former national security adviser, Stephen Hadley. We found that Hadley, now a director at Raytheon, one of the US’s largest defense contractors and the manufacturer of the popular Tomahawk cruise missile, did not disclose his industry ties when making the media rounds on CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, and Bloomberg TV, as an expert on defense and security.
During our investigation we noticed the repetitive language used to describe Raytheon’s Tomahawk cruise missile, which was widely accepted as the most popular choice of armament for such an engagement. Repeatedly characterized as smart, precise, and low-damage (meaning fewer innocent casualties), the Tomahawk is painted as both sophisticated and effective. This observation sparked a quick post on the troubled history of the Tomahawk, Raytheon’s investment in lobbying congress, and the media’s odd fascination with the weapon, and a short video of commentators discussing engagement tactics and specifically, the Tomahawk cruise missile. It is worth noting how this weapon’s characteristics inspire strikingly blithe commentary from former officials who seem to forget that the Tomahawk is a weapon, not something you “scatter around” like confetti.
Join a LittleSis training!
By Whitney Yax • Jan 30, 2014 at 12:54 EST
Look familiar? You can now join a free online training to get over the hump and start using LittleSis for your power research!
The real value of LittleSis is that anyone can edit and add data to keep the information accurate, current, and most importantly, growing. The more that our community of researchers, journalists, academics, activists, and concerned citizens add their research to LittleSis, the more we can build a collective understanding of the networks of power that shape public policy in our country. Contact us to join a training.
Here are five things LittleSis can help you with that we’ll cover in the training:
On Sunday the New York Times posted a fascinating piece of power research on Hillary Clinton’s ever-expanding sphere of connections within her personal and political networks. Author Amy Chozick compared Clinton’s world to Obama’s more insular model:
Unlike Barack Obama, who will leave the White House with more or less the same handful of friends he came in with, the Clintons occupy their own unique and formidable and often exhausting place in American politics. Over the decades, they’ve operated like an Arkansas tumbleweed, collecting friends and devotees from Bill Clinton’s kindergarten class to Yale Law School to Little Rock to the White House to the Senate and beyond. James Carville has compared the Clinton world, perhaps not so originally, to an onion (it’s safest, he has said, to exist in the third or fourth layer), while other Clinton staff members, past and present, have an endless litany of other metaphors to make sense of it. One former aide told me that working for the Clintons is like staying at the Hotel California (“You can check out, but you can never leave”); another person compared it to prison (“Not everyone can adjust to life on the outside”).
Last week, the Center for Sustainable Shale Development announced it had hired Susan Packard LeGros, a Philadelphia-area environmental attorney, as its executive director. LeGros is replacing interim director Andrew Place, who is also the head of public policy research for Pittsburgh gas driller EQT Corporation.
As we discussed in our report “Big Green Fracking Machine,” though CSSD bills itself as an “unprecedented collaboration” between the drilling industry and environmental groups “to support continuous improvement and innovative practices through performance standards and third-party certification,” the group is dominated by oil and gas interests and appears to be less an independent certifier than a greenwash effort to improve the natural gas industry’s public image. LeGros is an apt complement to CSSD’s model. She comes to the Center from Stevens & Lee, a law firm with several offices in the Mid-Atlantic region that lists her as a contact for its oil and gas practice. LeGros is also a former director of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, an environmental group whose friendly ties to the gas industry we detailed on this blog last year.
Along with its announcement of LeGros’s hiring, CSSD announced that it will begin certifying gas drillers as “sustainable” this year, though the third party auditor will be Bureau Veritas rather than the previously reported ICF International. After the controversy surrounding CSSD board member and now former Heinz Endowments President Bobby Vagt‘s failure to disclose his board position on pipeline company Kinder Morgan, the involvement of one of CSSD’s main fiscal sponsors became questionable. This week’s announcements signal that, with or without the involvement of the Heinz Endowments, the show will go on at the Center for Sustainable Shale Development.
What it takes to get on CNBC’s power list
By Gin Armstrong • Jan 24, 2014 at 12:37 EST
CNBC is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year and kicking off the yearlong fête with a viewer-generated “definitive” ranking of those who “have had the greatest influence, sparked the biggest changes and created the most disruption in business over the past quarter century.” According to a press release, the pool of contenders were chosen based on the following criteria:
- A person must have been more than a good CEO. He/she should have altered business, commerce, management or human behavior—in other words, the person should have been responsible for ushering in meaningful change, with business being the primary sphere of influence.
- A person does not need to be alive, and his/her early work may have predated 1989, but his/her transformative impact should be greatest during the past 25 years.
- The pool of candidates should be diverse, reflecting different geographies and sectors.
The selection of 200 nominees was compiled by CNBC’s own “elite advisory board,” which included Paul Steiger, former Wall Street Journal managing editor and ProPublica founding editor. The list will be whittled down to just 25 through online voting. Former Forbes executive editor Paul Maidment will serve as an editor on the project.
It is quite the list. There is the questionable yet inevitable inclusion of J.P. Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon, who recently led his company through record-breaking settlements with the Department of Justice, and more curious choices such as recently indicted SAC founder Steven Cohen (fined $1.8 billion for insider trading), former Enron CEO Ken Lay (found guilty for conspiracy and fraud), former Tyco CEO Dennis Kozlowski (recently released on parole), and disgraced WorldCom CEO Bernie Ebbers (currently serving a 25 year sentence).