Wednesday, February 24, 2010

NY Times: Lawmakers' Ties to Toyota, Rattling Cages

From: Tim Carpenter for PDA
Rattling Cages
Lobby and Call-in Day, Agitator Voices, and Brown Bag Lunch Vigils

Dear Friend,

On Monday, President Obama released his healthcare proposal. Similar to the
Senate version, the Obama proposal includes a regulatory body to control
insurance price increases. Considering the state of corporate regulation in
this country, the most viable alternative to containing rising costs is
Medicare for all.

"Public option" advocacy groups have been beating Senate bushes trying to
whip up support for an idea whose time has come and gone. Congress should
reconsider what Americans really want-Medicare for all-and it's up to us to
rattle their cages.

This Thursday, Feb. 25, Healthcare-NOW! is sponsoring the Sidewalk Summit
for Medicare for All! in front of the White House. Please attend if you live
nearby, and lend a hand with the lobby visits. If you can't attend, please
call your member of Congress on Thursday-click for talking
points and all contact info.

PDA and our allies-CNA/NNOC,, After Downing Street, Defund
Wars, United for Peace & Justice, and CODEPINK-have been turning up the heat
in the street and in Congressional district offices at our monthly Brown Bag
Lunch Vigils. (Scroll to the bottom of the BBLV page to read vigil reports
and view photos.)

Find a vigil near you. Can't find one? Start one-we're here to help you!
Don't forget to order materials for the next vigil on St. Patrick's Day,
March 17! Get HNW labels for your lunch bags, T-shirts, and more.

Stay tuned for more info on the greening of next month's Brown Bag Lunch

Tim Carpenter
PDA National Director

Progressive Democrats of America is a grassroots PAC that works both inside
the Democratic Party and outside in movements for peace and justice. PDA's
advisory board includes seven members of Congress and activist leaders such
as Tom Hayden, Medea Benjamin, Thom Hartmann, Jim Hightower, and Lila

Join a PDA Issue Organizing Team

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Lawmakers' Ties to Toyota Questioned at Start of Inquiries

NY Times: February 22, 2010
WASHINGTON - As Congress prepares to open hearings on Tuesday into Toyota's
rash of safety problems, government watchdog groups are questioning whether
the deep financial and personal connections between lawmakers and the
carmaker could taint the inquiries.

Toyota, as both a major employer in the United States and a major lobbying
force in Washington, has staked out a position in the capital unlike almost
any other foreign corporation, with close ties to a number of the lawmakers
who will lead inquiries into the safety defects that have led to the recall
of more than eight million vehicles.

Federal disclosure records show that Toyota, with 31 lobbyists in Washington
last year, has spent nearly $25 million on federal regulatory and
legislative lobbying matters in the last five years, far more than any other
foreign automaker. That amount is certain to grow this year, with Toyota in
full damage-control mode in the face of myriad federal investigations.

"Toyota has lobbied to a degree that no other foreign automaker has," said
Dave Levinthal, communications director for the Center for Responsive
Politics, a research group that has analyzed Toyota's record in Washington.

"They've built up years' worth of connections with federal lawmakers, and
that counts for something, when you know the people who are waiting for you
on the other side of that door in a contentious situation," he said. "Now,
does that mean they're going to get off easily? That remains to be seen."
However, the potential for conflicts of interest was significant, he added.

Toyota's registered lobbyists include at least eight former officials from
Congress and the executive branch. The company also employs former engineers
and officials from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the
federal regulatory agency faulted by some critics for failing to spot a
pattern of safety problems at Toyota.

A number of lawmakers have personal financial ties to Toyota as well. More
than a dozen members of Congress have owned stock in Toyota since 2008,
valued, in some cases, at tens of thousands of dollars. Representative Jane
Harman, a California Democrat, led the way, with Toyota stock valued at
$116,000 to $315,000 in her most recent disclosure report.

Ms. Harman serves on the House energy committee, which will begin a public
examination of Toyota's problems at a hearing on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, the House oversight committee will hold a hearing of its own
on Toyota. The ranking Republican on the committee, Representative Darrell
Issa of California, has pressed Toyota for a fuller accounting of the safety
problems, but he too has a history of financial connections to automakers.

Mr. Issa is one of the wealthiest members of Congress with reported assets
of as much as $337 million, in his most recent Congressional filing. He made
his money in the auto-alarm business, selling the Viper alarm and other
brands for Toyotas and many other makes. Although he sold his financial
interests in the company he founded a decade ago, he remains on its board.

Kurt Bardella, a spokesman for Mr. Issa, said that the company that Mr. Issa
founded had never had any exclusive contracting agreements with Toyota and
that financial connections between the company and any lawmakers should not
hinder the examinations by Congress.

Mr. Issa "has been the most aggressive person in Congress in this
investigation, and he has no vested interest in Toyota's success or
failure," Mr. Bardella said.

The third panel examining Toyota - the Senate commerce committee - will hold
its hearing next week, and its chairman, Senator John D. Rockefeller IV,
Democrat of West Virginia, has extensive ties to Toyota as well.

Mr. Rockefeller helped Toyota establish one of its fastest-growing plants in
West Virginia, and the company honored him for his support with a lavish
dinner in 2008. At the time, he said he was proud to call Toyota a friend
and added, "We boast of the 1,500 jobs and more than $1 billion in
investment they've brought us."

Toyota employs an estimated 172,000 people in the United States at plants,
dealerships and suppliers. With a steady stream of damaging articles in
recent weeks about Toyota's years of knowledge of safety problems,
supporters say the company's employment record should earn it a fair and
even-handed review by federal officials.

"Toyota has unquestionably placed the safety of its customers above
profits," Gov. Steve Beshear of Kentucky, which is home to a Toyota
manufacturing plant, said in a letter to Congress this month that was signed
by three other governors.

"At the same time, they have not laid off a single employee, despite the
impact these concerns have had on sales," the letter said. "All of these
actions are representative of the valuable friend we have in Toyota."

Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, a
consumer group that has examined Toyota's safety record, said he hoped that
members of Congress would be able to set aside their connections to Toyota
and undertake the kind of tough examination seen a decade ago in a
controversy over Ford and Firestone tires.

Ford and Firestone "had very close ties to Capitol Hill, too, and that didn't
prevent Congress from fully examining the situation and coming up with some
pretty strong recommendations," Mr. Ditlow said. "When you're in a public
crisis like this with Toyota, your lobbying contacts aren't going to save
the day."

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