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2376Thompson's past as lobbyist may play into future as candidate

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  • Greg Cannon
    Jun 7, 2007
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      http://www.usatoday.com/printedition/news/20070607/a_thompson07.art.htm

      Past as lobbyist may play into future as candidate
      Times, rules have changed since Fred Thompson last ran
      for office

      By Ken Dilanian
      USA TODAY

      WASHINGTON — When Fred Thompson was investigating
      alleged campaign-finance abuses as chairman of the
      Senate Governmental Affairs committee in 1997, one of
      his targets was Harold Ickes — a top aide and
      fundraiser for President Clinton.

      Over the past three years, though, the former
      Republican senator and the Democratic powerbroker were
      on the same side of a big legislative battle. Both
      were part of a team of lobbyists for Equitas Ltd., a
      British reinsurance company set up to handle billions
      of dollars in claims by asbestos victims, lobbying
      records show.

      That unlikely pairing offers an insight into Thompson,
      64, who declared his interest last week in running for
      president. Although the folksy-sounding Tennessean
      recently told USA TODAY that he would run an outsider,
      just as he did while campaigning as a "country lawyer"
      in a red pickup during his 1994 U.S. Senate race, his
      résumé is that of a longtime Washington operative who
      has crossed ideological lines to represent corporate
      and foreign clients.

      Before he was elected to the Senate, Thompson spent
      nearly two decades in Washington as a lawyer-lobbyist,
      representing such entities as Westinghouse, the
      deposed leader of Haiti, the Teamsters Union pension
      fund and the Tennessee Savings and Loan Association,
      according to Senate records and published accounts.

      After he left the Senate in 2003, Thompson resumed his
      acting career with a role as the district attorney on
      TV's Law & Order. Less visibly, he registered in 2004
      as a lobbyist for Equitas, a company created to manage
      the asbestos liability for Lloyd's of London.

      Equitas hired a bevy of lobbyists to protect its
      interests in the proposal to set up a federal trust
      fund, paid for by insurers, asbestos-makers and
      others, to compensate asbestos victims. The bill
      failed to pass, but before that happened, Equitas got
      what it wanted: a change in a provision the company
      said singled out foreign insurers for unfavorable
      treatment. Jon Nash, a firm spokesman, on Wednesday
      credited Thompson as having "contributed to the
      successful outcome."

      The company paid Thompson $760,000 from 2004 to 2006,
      according to Senate records.

      After a review of lobbying records and Thompson's tax
      returns, The (Memphis) Commercial Appeal reported in
      1994 that he earned $507,000 from lobbying in 1975-93.
      That figure, a fraction of his total legal income,
      reflects a narrower definition of lobbying than the
      one in the current law. Thompson reported $3.7 million
      in income from lawyering and acting from 1983 to 1993,
      according to The Commercial Appeal and other Tennessee
      newspapers that cited his tax returns.

      Thompson declined to be interviewed for this article.
      His spokesman, Mark Corallo, said, "Many of the
      candidates from both parties have been lobbyists or
      have been lobbied at one point or another in their
      careers. It is an honorable endeavor that goes back to
      the beginnings of this republic." Former New York City
      mayor Rudy Giuliani, a Republican, reported that he
      earned $1.2 million last year from Bracewell &
      Giuliani, a Houston law and lobbying firm.

      Thompson's opponent in his 1994 Senate race, Democrat
      Jim Cooper, sought to make an issue of the advocacy.
      He labeled Thompson a "Gucci-wearing, Lincoln-driving,
      Perrier-drinking, Grey Poupon- spreading millionaire
      Washington special-interest lobbyist." It didn't work.
      Speaking of Congress, Thompson told one crowd he could
      not wait "to go up there and grab that place by the
      scruff of the neck and give it a good shake." He beat
      Cooper by 20 percentage points.

      Some analysts say Thompson may find his lobbying role
      more of a burden under the microscope of a
      presidential campaign, in an era when the Jack
      Abramoff scandal has cast lobbying in a harsh light.

      "I suspect that when you run for president those sorts
      of activities receive a greater level of scrutiny,"
      said Bruce Oppenheimer, political science professor at
      Vanderbuilt University in Nashville. "It's not just,
      'who are you?' but 'who are your friends?' "

      Political analyst Stuart Rothenberg said it could be a
      plus that Thompson "can wear the plaid shirt and drive
      the pickup and sound like a good ol' boy, and 20
      minutes later, in a beautiful suit with polished
      shoes, sound like a guy who is an insider who knows
      about policy. But there is always the potential that
      voters will see that contradiction and wonder which
      one is the real one."

      On occasion, Thompson lobbied for causes he would
      later criticize as a senator. For example, Thompson
      led a Senate effort against "corporate welfare." As a
      lobbyist in the 1980s, he represented Westinghouse in
      its failed bid to win billions in subsidies for a
      nuclear reactor project in Tennessee, which the
      Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, called
      "a multibillion-dollar folly." Corallo said the
      project was "aimed at helping to alleviate the energy
      crunch the country was suffering through."

      In addition to lobbying, Thompson also has served on
      corporate boards. From May 2004 to November 2005, he
      sat on the board of the NASDAQ stock market, according
      to Securities and Exchange Commission records.

      In the 1990s, Thompson served on the board of
      directors of — and did legal work for — engineering
      firm Stone & Webster. Shareholder activists
      unsuccessfully sued the firm in 1994, though, saying
      it was mismanaged. The lawsuit was filed after
      Thompson left the board, but it covered activities
      during the time he served. One plaintiff, investor
      Nell Minow — who made a business of buying shares in
      underperforming companies and pushing for changes —
      accused Thompson of a conflict of interest because he
      did legal work while on the board.

      The company lost money throughout the 1990s, including
      the time Thompson served on the board, and went
      bankrupt in 2000, six years after Thompson left.
      Corallo declined to comment.

      Martin Baach, a lawyer who coordinated Equitas'
      Capitol Hill advocacy, offered a different opinion of
      Thompson's business skills. "He's a great problem
      solver," Baach said.