Free trade may be free for multinational corporations, but everyone else pays the price.
Not that anyone seemed to contemplate this amid the glitz and glamour of center stage at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, where the two words seemed notably absent from the discussion.
But outside the convention center, a brigade of free trade lobbyists were among the cadre of influential people behind the parties at the DNC. The quadrennial affair, and its Republican counterpart in Tampa the week before, was ground zero for influence peddling.
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Flash back to the first day of the convention, Sept. 4, where during an early evening happy hour, a non-profit organization called the Organization for International Investment (OFII) put together an expensive gathering at the Aloft Hotel. Rooms at this hotel during the convention started at roughly $400/night, and admission to the party itself required a $2500 to $15,000 “contribution.”
OFII’s partner in the venture was a lobbying-centric limited liability corporation (LLC) created to skirt Congressional ethics laws at the convention, DNC Strategies Group, covered in-depth in parts one and two of TruthOut’s “people behind the parties – and the Democratic Party – and the DNC” series.
So who is OFII and what’s their agenda? And what does their agenda say about the Democratic Party’s policy platform?
Organization for International Investment: Free Trade Champs
According to OFII’s web site, the organization got its start two decades ago, at about the same time the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) – signed by former President Bill Clinton in 1993 – was a major issue. Clinton was a keynote speaker at the DNC on Sept. 5, a speech The Washington Post said established his “rock star status.”
“Organization for International Investment (OFII) works at the national, state and local levels of government to ensure non-discriminatory treatment for US subsidiaries of companies headquartered abroad,” explains its web site.
Offshoring of US jobs – which the Obama campaign has emphasized in its criticisms of Republican Party candidate Mitt Romney, is a key part of free trade agreements. Critical analysts refer to this set of circumstances as the “outsourcing” of jobs, but the OFII, in an Orwellian twist, refers to this as “insourcing.” OFII means outsourcing when it says “foreign-based companies.”
Who could’ve come up with such an ingenious public relations move, turning reality on its head and coining “outsourcing” as “insourcing?”
Look no further than to Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, “one of the world’s premier research and strategic consulting firms,” according to its web site. The firm “specializes in political polling and campaign strategy, helping political candidates, parties and ballot initiatives succeed across the country and around the world.” Lead by Democratic Party insiders Stanley Greenberg, Al Quinlan and Jeremy Rosner, the firm has an abundance of clients and one of them is OFII.
Other clients, past and present, include MoveOn.org, the Democratic Leadership Council, the World Bank, former President Bill Clinton and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, former Chief-of-Staff to President Obama.
Koch, Wall Street, Auto Industry Ties
OFFI’s member list reads like the Fortune 500, with corporate members ranging from BP, Shell Oil, BAE Systems, Barclays Capital, Toyota, Kia, Honda North America, BMW and Nissan, to name several.
Why so many auto industry ties? Think outsourcing. In the post-NAFTA age, the US auto industry has outsourced some 108,000 jobs according to a 2011 Economic Policy Institute report.
The Board of Directors of OFII consists of representatives from the biggest multinational corporations in the world, among them: Daimler, Shell Oil, Bayer, and Nestlé.
One of the Board Members, Jake Jones, “prior to joining DaimlerChrysler…was the lead trade and immigration legislative representative for the AFL-CIO.” Jones, then, was a “union boss” who abandoned his rank-and-file. The DaimlerChrysler engine plant in Kenosha, WI decided to close its doors in the summer of 2009, outsourcing many of those jobs to Mexico, where workers are paid less (and exploited more).
This decision moved John Drew of the Union Auto Workers (UAW) to tell the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, “We’re outraged that they would be planning to close the plant in Kenosha at the same time that they’re opening a plant in Mexico to build the engine that was promised to Kenosha.”
The President and CEO of OFII, Nancy McLernon, who has lobbied for OFII for 14 years, formerly served as legislative director for trade policy at Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE), a right-wing, Koch Industries-funded and -founded think-tank. She also received her masters in economics from George Mason University, which has a notoriously right-wing economics department funded, like CSE, by the Kochs.
McLernon’s lobbyist partner at OFII, John Lettieri, was formerly a lobbyist for AgustaWestland North America from 2007-2010, “a leading helicopter manufacturer and unit of the global defense and aerospace group Finmeccanica, where he was involved in a number of high-profile defense…programs.”
It’s a natural career segue. Academics John Gallagher and Ronald Robinson, authors of the seminal article “The Imperialism of Free Trade,” theorized that imperialism isn’t always conducted by brute force and that it can also be implemented via “informal empire.” Yet, when “informal empire” falls through, the use of lethal force is always an option.
Todd Malan, the former President and CEO of OFII, where he worked for 14 years, brought his skill set to Goldman Sachs, where he now serves as vice president of governmental relations for one of the Big Banks, Goldman Sachs. He also is a former employee of the Office of the United States Trade Representative, epitomizing the industrial-government revolving door.
The cherry on top is one of OFFI’s listed economic advisors, the Washington Tax Group, a lobbying firm whose clients include Raytheon, United Technologies, Monsanto and General Motors. GM, like DaimlerChrysler, closed its doors in Janesville in 2009, outsourcing the jobs to China, rather than to Mexico like the Kenosha plant.
One of the Tax Group’s lobbyists, Gregory Nickerson, is a former lobbyist for the National Foreign Trade Council, the oldest lobbying tour de force for free trade agreements in the US Its Board of Directors consists of representatives from Toyota, Chrysler, Ford, GM, ExxonMobil, Chevron, General Electric and Halliburton.
Platform Promotes Free Trade
The new Democratic Party platform, like the 2008, 2004 and 2000 platforms, advocates for free trade. Since NAFTA was signed by Clinton, over 750,000 jobs have disappeared into thin air, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
As covered in a previous TruthOut installment on the people behind the parties at the DNC, one DNC Strategies Group lobbyist (host of the OFII soiree), Daniella Landau, is a former employee of DC public relations behemoth Burson-Marsteller. While there, “she helped coordinate message and communications strategies designed to promote successful passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement,” reads one of her biographical sketches. She’s also a long-time Democratic Party insider, so one can safely bet she wasn’t a party wallflower at the OFFI festivities hosted by DNC Strategies Group.
Lori Wallach, Director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch told TruthOut that this is par-for-the-course behavior by these lobbyists and that OFII’s agenda fits in perfectly with the policies currently being pushed by the Obama Administration and the US government at-large.
“The same kinds of corporations are involved with different configurations and with different names that have the same mission: to hijack the name of free trade to impose all kinds of non-trade related benefits and privileges for large multinational corporations, including new privileges and policies that make it more profitable, easier and less risky to offshore American jobs,” Wallach said. “That’s at the crux of today’s so-called trade agreements.”
“There are a bunch of powerful business interests that intend to use US trade policy to suit their ends and to hijack trade agreements to be used as a delivery mechanism for a lot of policies that just wouldn’t make it through open public debate in Congress or a state legislature,” she continued. “So the fact that the usual suspects are trying to curry political favor on a bipartisan basis to hijack trade agreements is unfortunately par for the course with how so-called US trade policy has been going.”