The Gingrich Bailout
In accepting $300,000 from Bob
Dole, Newt Gingrich claims he took the high ground. If enough
folks examine the deal closely, he may have to head on up to
House rules only allow loans on
terms "generally available to the public." That
includes me, so I called five banks and asked for $300K,
unsecured, at 10 percent, with no payments for eight years.
They thought I was nuts. When I profiled Newt’s income
and net worth, all five still said no chance. (The best I
found for him was $25K, monthly payments, 10 years, 13.9
On its face, this deal’s a
bigger con than Speed 2.
Loans to Congresspeople must
also come from a financial institution—which Bob Dole
isn’t—unless originating from a friend with no
interest in buying influence.
Okay, so Dole and Gingrich are
pals. Just like Tiger Woods and Fuzzy Zoeller. But does Bob
Dole really have no interest in buying influence? Dole’s
new day gig is "special counsel" for Vemer,
Liipfert, one of the biggest and most active lobbying firms
In February, the five tobacco
monsters—Philip Morris, RJR, Brown & Williamson,
UST, and Loews—retained Verner, Liipfert to lobby
The cancer kings are in major
trouble: 15 class action suits, 23 states suing for billions
in Medicaid expenses, and now teeny Liggett fessing up that
cigarettes are really, really bad.
However, Liggett has also shown
the bad guys a way out: admitting guilt and paying a fine, in
exchange for immunity from future liability. Since potential
lawsuits might run over a trillion dollars, the barons of
broadleaf need immunity so badly that they’re willing to
put their ads, their trademarks, $300 billion in fines, and
FDA status as a drug on the bargaining table.
On April 3, after weeks of
organizing, backroom negotiations began. The first meeting
included four Attorneys General, two stogie moguls, a bunch
of trial lawyers…and Verner, Liipfert.
Info on the meetings is scarce.
However, any agreement they reach will have to be voted on by
Congress. That puts Mr. Speaker at the head of the tobacco
lobby’s kiss-up list. And he badly needs $300,000. Gee,
what to do, what to do… ?
Who thought up the loan?
"Dole just came up with it himself," said the
Associated Press, quoting Charles Black, an "adviser to
Dole" who did most of the talking. A curious
spinmeister: Charles Black is a lobbyist whose biggest
account last year was Philip Morris.
(Dole and tobacco go way back.
Four of the five tobacconists who hired Verner, Liipfert were
among the top 10 Republican donors during Dole’s run at
the White House; Philip Morris led all scorers with $2.5
million. In exchange, Dole opposed FDA actions to curb
tobacco sales and marketing, grandstanded an anti-drug pose
while not mentioning that cigarettes kill 25 times more
Americans than all illegal narcotics combined, and even
questioned tobacco’s addictive qualities on national
When did the loan idea
originate? Dole’s spokesperson termed it "last
minute" and completely unexpected. But most GOP sources
say Dole first broached the loan with Scott Reed, an actual
friend of Newt, sometime near the first of April—just as
tobacco liability talks began. Reed spoke to another
go-between, and then Gingrich. (This is how "close,
personal friends" usually talk.)
When did Newt accept the loan?
His people pinpoint the evening of April 16, but Newt’s
signature is on an agreement dated April 15. Reed contacted
Gingrich at least a week earlier. No one is being very
specific about dates.
It’s not clear when Newt
verbally agreed, but Dole wouldn’t have called on the
15th if Newt hadn’t already expressed interest. That was
the whole point of sending Reed as an errand boy.
We do know that on April 9,
Verner, Liipfert hired Bob Dole.
The non-partisan National
reports that Dole received a bonus of—coincidentally
enough—$300,000. (Their source is a partner at Verner,
Liipfert.) That’s just how much Dole fronted Gingrich
six days later.
Curious? The major papers
aren’t. The Ethics Committee won’t care; the chair
is Utah’s James Hansen, a conservative Republican. Slam
Dole denies that Verner,
Liipfert had knowledge of the Gingrich loan; reportedly, most
folks at the firm were embarrassed by the appearance of
You can see why: Verner,
Liipfert works for tobacco. So does Dole, who now also works
for Verner, Liipfert. Verner, Liipfert wants liability limits
passed. During negotiations, they gave Dole $300K, just as
Dole was offering the bailout to Newt. Dole put $300K in
Newt’s hand six days later.
Now let’s see just how
hard Newt works to pass the impending liability deal. The
high ground smells a lot like a tobacco field.
Y’know how when you play
Monopoly, you try to gather up all the properties in a color
group, because then no one can pass without paying you money?
Rupert Murdoch, the richest man
in Southern California, wants to buy the LA Dodgers.
(Actually, he wants to buy everything, including your dog.
The Dodgers are just next on his shopping list.) As it stands
now, Angelenos can hardly watch a game he doesn’t own.
Murdoch already owns the broadcast rights to the Lakers and
Clippers, the Kings and Ducks, and both USC and UCLA.
Murdoch already owns the Fox TV
network, Fox Sports West channels one and two, the Fox News
Channel, the FX channel, the FX movie channel, and the local
He also owns TV
Guide, <D>Harper Collins Books,
Twentieth Century Fox movie studio, and more than 100
newspapers and magazines.
So one day soon, LA residents
will watch a Murdoch sports team on a Murdoch sports channel,
then watch the highlights on a Murdoch news channel and read
about it in a Murdoch newspaper. They’ll then read a
Murdoch paperback about the star player and watch a Murdoch
movie dramatizing his big game. Later, that’ll be on a
Murdoch movie channel with promotional interviews in a
Murdoch magazine, and the listings for it all will be in
Murdoch’s TV Guide.<D>
If there’s anything wrong
with that situation, you can be sure Murdoch will tell you
Guard your dog.
Eight separatists calling
themselves "Soldiers of the Republic of Venice"
recently stormed the belltower in St. Mark’s Square and
demanded that Venice secede from Italy. Noble? Maybe.
Obviously, everybody has a
right to self-determination. But what self-governance
actually means has changed drastically, thanks to a multitude
of international trade agreements.
Here’s an example: The
European Union doesn’t want to import American beef,
because they’re scared of the hormones we put in it. You
probably wouldn’t want to be force-fed escargots so even
if you enjoy munching on cow parts, you can see their point.
However, the World Trade Organization, which rules these
matters since the GATT agreement, dictated that Europe either
has to let the meat roll in or pay a quarter-billion dollars
All their flags and anthems and
armies didn’t give the Europeans a right to their own
Just as the boundaries between
American states became less significant in the last century,
so will boundaries between nations in the next. You can draw
the map any way you want to; you’ll still buy the map
with a Visa card.
Just to demonstrate, I’ll
declare independence myself. Watch. I am now officially the
Most Serene Republic of Bob. "Louie, Louie" is my
national anthem, and I’m getting military aid from the
State Department so I don’t overthrow myself. Great.
I’m still gonna have to buy stuff.
The only power I have is over
what I choose to buy, and now even that’s disappearing.
(OK. I’m relinquishing statehood now, before the FBI
If the folks in Venice really
want to fight for independence, they’re gonna have to
realize that the modern empire no longer arrives in tanks,
but in drive-thrus. AK-47s and a flag, by themselves,
probably won’t defeat 501s and a Coke.
The upside? No two countries
that both have a McDonalds have ever gone to war. Of course,
once you’re assimilated, "culture" is just the
local language on the menu.
Who’s gonna be president
in 2000? Time<D>
are already asking that question almost every week. In most
civilized countries, an election takes a couple of months,
tops. Canada’s campaign started the same time baseball
season did, and it’ll be over before the Cubs win three
in a row.
But since our whole political
system is now just an elaborate auction to the highest
bidder, candidates have to stockpile cash years in advance.
Since wealth and power are centralizing, next time looks
depressingly like last time.
On the Democratic side, Al
Gore’s already got enough cash in the cupboard that
he’s pretty much untouchable. Even so, Dick Gephardt is
picking his fights, Jesse Jackson’s considering a run,
John Kerry is in and out, and Paul Wellstone has been
building a national organization from the day he arrived in
DC. Too bad nobody knows who he is.
As to Republicans, Liddy Dole
has put a bunch of Bob’s campaign people on the Red
Cross staff, which doesn’t normally need spin doctors.
Liddy can also count on Newt Gingrich’s help now that
Bob holds the mortgage on his soul. John Kasich, from Ohio,
just did a fundraiser in Iowa. Colin Powell’s doing
magazine covers again for some reason. Jack Kemp will wobble
onward once he’s done flip-flopping on immigration.
Lamar Alexander persists, even though I just sat behind him
on a plane and no one even recognized him. Bob Dornan still
commands the red-faced lunatic demographic. Dan Quayle
started campaigning for 2000 before the 1996 election was
even over, but then math always was a tricky one for the boy.
Meanwhile, Perot’s still
rich. So is Steve Forbes, who doesn’t want the office as
much as a "flat billion-dollar inheritance tax"
Then there are the New Party,
the Greens, the Libertarians, the Professor, and Mary Ann.
None of whom have enough money to play. Same as it ever was.
The only way out is campaign
finance reform. If nothing else, it’ll shorten the
process. Even if the candidates don’t improve, at least
we won’t have to get depressed about them for three more
Two months ago, Bill Clinton
ripped up his knee. Y’know, if he was in an HMO like a
lot of folks, right about now his coverage would expire.
He’d have to pay for his therapy out of his own pocket,
or at least give the Lincoln bedroom to the head of Blue
The president, however,
isn’t in managed care. He’s covered by the
Pentagon, so he gets gyroscopic titanium crutches,
stealth-technology, blast-hardened knee braces, and X-rays
from the Hubble Space Telescope. Not surprisingly, he’s
recovering in record time.
I’m genuinely glad
he’s feeling better—it’s wrong to wish pain on
anyone except Jerry Springer—but the president should
realize that if he worked downtown he’d have to ration
his treatments and probably couldn’t climb steps by now.
Clinton’s health care
proposals a while back were a mess, but there are a lot of
bright people with good ideas in the world. Maybe if the
folks in Washington got the same coverage the rest of us get,
they’d do something more about the declining quality of
our health plans besides taking PAC money from insurers and
balancing the budget by cutting Medicare.
At least that’s my
knee-jerk reaction. (Loud, embarrassed coughing.) Sorry.