In 1969, History was Written
“A political golden handshake”
1969- for the first time in human history, a man would set foot onto the moon. Richard Nixon had moved into the White House, Dwight D. Eisenhower, war hero and President, died in an Army hospital in Washington D.C. An icon was buried, and the power elite drowned their sorrow in French cuisine and a couple cases of Chateau Mouton Rothschild. Washington had discovered French cuisine, Perrier water, croissants and baguette and la France was en vogue. May be not Charles de Gaulle, mais la culture culinaire. Restaurants like “Rive Gauche “were fashionable or “Chez François”. And there was the “Sans Souci” on 17th Street, in walking distance to the White House.
“Sans Souci” had a dress code, ties and jackets were a must, which one of those days prevented Mick Jagger from mingling with the exclusive VIP circle. The menu was not important, the guest list was senators, members of the House of Representatives, ambassadors, the publisher of the “Washington Post”, Kathryn Graham, Henry Kissinger, Nixon ‘s National Security Adviser, and the Cuban cigar puffing Pierre Salinger, Kennedy’s press secretary. Andy Warhol of New York contemporary art fame showed up, a colorful figure among the dark blue, dark grey suited power brigades. The decoration on the restaurant walls Renoir’s, and Toulouse Lautrec’s were imitations. The maître’ Paul Deslile was a French caricature-savvy, snobby, rigid, charming. That he was cross eyed gave the director a certain quaint Woody Allen look. When he searched for a guest’s reservation and their attire, he seemed to observe with his wandering eye tables and waiters, who were dressed like survivors of the Titanic restaurant crew.
”Yoked to special interests”
The power lunch at the “Sans Souci” was a legend and I was allowed to witness the powerful and wealthy because a lobbyist, one of thousands, were in the process of arranging a meeting for me with his boss, Henry Ford II, the eldest grandson of the factory founder, Henry Ford. Even industrialists are busy and George called me twice a week with the message “mon ami” (that’s all the French he mastered) our Chateau Haut Brion has been opened and all your illustrious colleagues are present –Ben Bradley, editor in chief of the “Washington Post”, Pierre Salinger, occasionally Walter Cronkite the liberal TV anchor. For George Trainor the restaurant was an extension of his office. He shook hands at this table, ordered Champagne for a former senator, now cashing in hundreds of thousands as a registered, official lobbyist, who is identified as “agent” once he is working for a foreign group or a foreign industrialist. Yes, foreign correspondents were also on his list, the lobbyist needed to push for Henry Ford and his cars although the industrialist once told me that privately that he was driving a Maserati.
Lobbyists make millions, at least those who work for Arab oil nations, but they are operating in a dark grey zone. Intervening into proposed laws or regulations, which could hurt their clients’ interests or even drive them out of business. Lobbyist must understand how the federal government works and how decisions are made, and be adept at cultivating relations with the powers. Lobbyists hired to represent an organization must register to lobby with the Federal Government in their registration documents, lobbying firms must disclose their name, the name of the client or employer, a list of issues being lobbied. Special interest lobby groups, argued the liberal “Center for American Progress” in a paper published 2017, “members of congress are yoked to special interest lobbyist in a variety of ways. During their campaigns candidates receive substantial amounts of funding from lobbyists. After retiring from office or losing an election, many lawmakers and staffers go on to work for those special interests and lobbying firms—a political golden handshake”. 11494 lobbyists are registered in the capital; thousands are “agents” for foreign interests.” Although lobbyists are subject to the same contribution limit”, stated the “Center for American Progress”-as other individuals -2700 dollars per candidate per election-many provide far more financial support to campaigns by holding fundraisers, and handling contributions from other individuals. Banning lobbyist fundraising would end one of the most direct ways that special interests attempt to buy favorable treatment -- and such bans have been incorporated into several pieces of legislation”. The “New York Times” described the lobbyists as an “elite band of former members of congress, former diplomats and power brokers “who are for hire for tobacco companies, chemical giants, anti carbon companies, civil rights groups or anti-abortion activists, all pressuring their politicians , manipulating, corrupting their thoughts and minds. Democracy is undermined, since the voters are not present when laws are written, dramatic changes arranged, whether local laws or international treaties, the implementation of sanctions or tariffs.
Since 2017 foreign governments represented by influential lobbying firms invested 1.268 110 601 dollars in their PR and government intervention programs; South Korea was the highest spender of all 156 nations active in the power game. Among the biggest spenders, Government of Japan (74.8 million dollars), Saudi Arabia (50.5), Israel (50.2). Just one of the Saudi Lobby firms was paid 31.5 million dollars in fees this year, reported the on line researchers of “Al-Monitor”, counting the “wins” after the investment: “Crown Prince avoids sanctions in the Kashoggi death, Trump overrules Congress on arms sale prohibition, US shares civilian nuclear technology.” The losses: «US sanctions Saudi officials, Congress seeks to end Yemen war, Lobby firms abandon Riyadh.”
It almost seems that members of Congress, the White House, State Department and the Pentagon are beleaguered by lobbyists, pushing for the interests of their clients. Saudi Arabia’s lobbyist Qorvis, disclosed this year’s 480 000 dollar payments for the “Saudi funded” “Muslim World League” in Mecca and disclosed that they were in touch with CBS News for an exclusive interview with the crown prince, and that its agents were in dealing with the Harvard Kennedy School, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and the Georgetown Strategy Group to arrange visits to Saudi Arabia. A game of power, competition and influence.
On September 11, 2019 Julian Pecquet, editor of Special Projects for “Al-Monitor”, reminded his readers that Saudi Arabia “broke new records for lobbying spending last year, only to suffer its worse reputational setback since the attacks of September 11, 2001” -the killing on Jamal Kashoggi.” All told, the Saudi government, royal court, and public companies spent almost 32 million on lobbyists and public relations in 2018 to keep the pressure on regional foes Iran and Qatar and promote the country s Vision 2030 of social reform and economic modernization”. The highly publicized murder of dissident journalist Jamal Kashoggi “has instead created a self-inflicted PR crisis that continues to plague bilateral relations a year later.” Worse:” Paradoxically Saudi Arabia’ s massive lobbying army has atrophied at a time when it’s needed the most.” Immediately after the Kashoggi killings at least six lobbying firms abandoned Riyadh.
In 2017, Qatar began a massive lobbying campaign in the US after Donald Trump sided with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other Arab countries in imposing a blockade against Qatar. Through august 2018 Qatar has hired 35 US lobbying firms and paid them a total of at least 19.5 million dollars. The lobbyists, as seen in disclosure files of Congress, contacted hundreds of members of the US Congress and dozens of journalists and Trump administration officials while spending millions of dollars on advertisements that promotes Qatar as US ally. Lobbyist hired by Qatar include Trump fundraiser Brian Ballard, and former attorney general John Ashcroft. Saudi Arabia’s lobby shop Hogan Lovells, reported Al Monitor, has been” reaching out to some of the harshest congressional critics of the kingdoms Yemen campaign to highlight its assistance to the country.” In October, registered “agent” Adal Fridman forwarded a press release about Riyadh ‘s 500 million donation at a humanitarian response conference held on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, copies of the mail distributed among influential senators. After all, not all the money invested in diners, trips to Saudi Arabia and fees for Lobbyists is wasted. Just recently a lobbying push by the ministry of Energy paid off- US energy secretary Rick Perry approved the transfer of nuclear power technology and assistance. The Saudi ministry had hired King &Spalding , Pillsbury Gowling WLG , and the law offices of David Kultgen in early 2018 to help develop a commercial nuclear program for the “King Abdullah City for Atomic and renewable e
The lobbyist bonanza in the US is reflecting the political and economical power of the United States. Lobbyists though are a global phenomenon, the temptations of interest groups to battle it out with governments in Berlin, London or Paris, is without doubt a questionable part of our democratic system. Brussels, the center of European power, counts officially 11250 lobbyists, and probably another 10 000 more. Most giant internet corporations, as Facebook, Amazon, Google or Microsoft are present in Europe and, no surprise, the “European Chemical Industry Council” (yearly budget around 12.1 million Euros), the “Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associates “(5.5 million) or “Insurance Europe” (6.7), the” European Smoking Tobacco Association” or “Dow Chemical”, are actively defending the interests of their clients, even if they disagree with their policies.
Revolving Doors provoke suspicion
The revolving doors at the headquarters of the European Union in Brussels provoke suspicion-EU diplomats, just as politicians of Congress in Washington, are leaving their posts and are given lucrative salaries to use their insider knowledge to attempt to water down, one example, strict ecology measures, or even better, succeed to suffocate these laws. The European speed limit rules on highways are an example for the compromises, even being actively supported by the German chancellor Angela Merkel. Her intervention, it seems, worked to ensure the relatively light response of the EU to the so-called Dieselgate Scandal-German car manufacturers manipulating computers to reduce the test results on Diesel engine emissions. Sure, the” German Association of the Automotive Industry” and the “European Automobile Manufacturer Association”, are engaged with their lobbyists to minimize or stop any laws touching their control or profits Since the Germans love cars and engines and unlimited speed on their highway, no government really dares to follow European neighbors. Speed restrictions of 120 or 130 km, in the Netherlands 100 and even 80 km. And Germans; who can afford Porsches or Ferraris, can drive as fast as a jet for takeoff.
” Jumping on the Brexit gravy train”
The Brexit kept the European Community for more than three years on alert, BMW for example is manufacturing their Mini Cooper in UK factories. Now the date seems set an official departure on January 31 and then, after a transition period of almost a year, the divorce. How man laws have to be rewritten, regulations changed or ended. Lobby firms in London and Brussels are “jumping on the Brexit lobby gravy train” as one EU publication stated, many setting up Brexit transitional teams. To get ready for the fight ahead, the paper stated, business interests have been snapping up former UK government Ministers and MPs for their access and influence. In Washington conciliation and compromise have been replaced with verbal aggression, threats of sanctions and tariffs. Diplomacy is suffocated by repression and menace.
Lobbyists are schmoozing their clients as ever, not hesitating to sell Saudi Arabia as the beacon of the future and the embattled crown prince as a visionary. Truth has no priority, since fake news and distortions in the shadow of Donald Trump have been accepted by large numbers of Trump fanatics as wisdom, a genial act of self mass communication. Laws are changed behind closed doors and manipulated, evil deeds forgiven. Climate change is ridiculed and misery ignored. Democracy is amputated, driven by powerful interest groups. The memories of power lunches at the “Sans Souci” turn into nostalgia, because in those days’ senators of opposing parties could still lunch together without being accused of treason. Gone is the spirit and also the restaurant has disappeared. Paul Deslile has died and the “Sans Souci” was demolished, replaced by a modern structure, which housed a “Mc Donald”. A sign of our time.
The opinions expressed in this article belong to the author.