MAY 1998 VOLUME 19 NUMBER 3


THEIR MASTERS' VOICE

 
The Small World
of Lobbyist Ann Wexler
 

Former members of Congress and retired government officials make for especially effective lobbyists because they enjoy easy access to former colleagues. That is why big companies retain such people as soon as they spin through the revolving door between the public and the private sector.

Consider the case of Ann Wexler of The Wexler Group, recently ranked one of the Beltway's 10 most influential lobbyists by Washingtonian magazine.

Wexler started out as a liberal, helping organize Eugene McCarthy's 1968 anti-war presidential campaign.

She then moved to a top spot at Common Cause and, from 1973 to 1976, served as Washington bureau chief for Rolling Stone during its muckraking heyday.

Her descent down the slippery slope from liberal activist to corporate toady started with a stint in Jimmy Carter's White House.

From there she launched her political consultancy, which boasts executives with close ties to both the Clinton administration and the Republican leadership in Congress.

The Clinton connection is Betsey Wright, chief of staff for the president when he was Arkansas governor and known for her skill in quelling the "bimbo eruptions" that periodically dogged her boss.

The Republican "in" is former Representative Robert Walker, until his retirement a few years back one of Newt Gingrich's closest allies.

Ann Wexler claims that corporate lobbyists do not wield inordinate power in Washington or enjoy special access to capital powerbrokers. "Issues are decided on their merits," she says. "There's no imbalance" between those who can retain lobbyists and those who cannot.

That is not what one would likely conclude from reviewing a "Call List" prepared for Wexler last September 18. Her schedule for the day included chats with three senators or their staffers; Ed Hall at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; a top beltway journalist; a think tanker (Al From, head of the Democratic Leadership Council, the "centrist" grouping that works to pull the Democrats to the right); the wife of a member of Congress; as well as high-ranking corporate officials at three firms Wexler represents (Arnie Wellman of United Parcel Service, Rick Stoddard of Kaiser Ventures and Ralph Gerson of Guardian Industries).

One call noted by her secretary came from Betsy & Johnny Apple -- the latter who is better known as R.W. Apple, the New York Times's longtime Washington bureau chief -- who sent her "heaps and heaps of love."

Having a pal like Apple could certainly come in handy if Wexler ever needs to kill an unflattering story about one of her clients.

The Timesman admits that he's an "establishment" sort of guy and once said that "if Lawrence Eagleburger or Zbigniew Brzezinski and one or two others were to say to me, 'that's a lot of crap,' I would tend to be hesitant to put it forward."

Wexler was also to call Elena Futter, a fundraiser for Senator Tom Daschle,  D-South Dakota, who wanted to talk to the lobbyist about using the senate minority leader's fiftieth birthday party as an occasion to drum up a bit of campaign cash.

And who better to talk to than Wexler, whose company's political action committee doled out $74,510 during the first half of 1997 alone, according to Federal Election Commission filings.

Wexler and her colleagues supplement the company's disbursements with tens of thousands of dollars in annual contributions from their own pockets. Who knows, when Wexler exchanges a campaign check for a slice of birthday cake, she may even find a few minutes to talk with Daschle about her clients' business concerns.

Another call for the day came from Derek Guest, who handles regulatory issues for Wexler's client Eastman-Kodak. He wanted to chat about a problem with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Guest, Wexler's secretary notes, had received letters from OSHA and they're "not bad." That likely means "not good" for Eastman-Kodak's workers; the company and other business groups have been pressing OSHA to ease rules on workplace exposure to methylene chloride, a suspected carcinogen.

Next up: Stuart Eizenstat, undersecretary of state, who, according to the secretary, won't be able to meet with Eastman-Kodak CEO George Fisher. But Wexler was no doubt able to reschedule the meeting for down the road, especially as she's been a buddy of Eizenstat's since the two worked together for President Carter more than 20 years ago. Fisher probably wanted to talk to "Stu" -- as the secretary's message calls him -- about his firm's dispute with Fuji over gaining greater access to the Japanese market. According to Washingtonian magazine, Wexler has been "tireless in drumming up public support" for Kodak and pressing her client's case with "U.S. trade negotiators and on other fronts."

The final call of the day was from Debbie Dingell, who wanted to talk to Wexler about a contract of an unspecified nature.

Note here that Debbie Dingell is married to John Dingell, D-Michigan, ranking minority member on the House Energy and Commerce Committee and one of the most powerful Democrats in Congress.

Debbie is also executive director of the General Motors Foundation. The General Motors Foundation is represented in Washington by The Wexler Group.

Ann Wexler's firm is a steady contributor to Representative Dingell and also lobbies for a number of firms with interests before his committee.

It's a small world after all!

-- Ken Silverstein