Charles Lewis, head and founder of the Center for Public Integrity.
Charles Lewis discusses "Under the Influence," a CPI report on advisers to the presidential candidates. He starts with Larry Pratt, an adviser to Pat Buchanan who also worked with white supremacist and hate groups. Bill Clinton’s association with Dick Morris and Steve Forbes’s association with Tom Ellis are also discussed. Lewis also addresses campaign finance with special attention on Clinton’s ties to Goldman Sachs, Bob Dole’s ties to Archer-Daniels-Midland, and the AFL-CIO’s strategy of giving money to Democrats with only marginal results.
Segment Subjects: 1996 presidential election, campaign finance, campaign advisers
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, as we said earlier, we’re moving on now to look at the issue of money. And joining us to talk about money in the presidential campaigns is Charles Lewis. He’s founder and executive director of the Center for Public Integrity, which has been called a watchdog in the corridors of power. Lewis is the author of the center’s new book, The Buying of the President. Now, he made headlines last week after he introduced his second study—the first, The Buying of the President, well, the first in this campaign—and the second was a study he wrote along with the staff of the Center for Public Integrity called Under the Influence: The 1996 Presidential Candidates and Their Campaign Advisers. And what made the news was the end of this press statement that day, when he revealed that Larry Pratt, Pat Buchanan’s campaign co-chair, was—well, why don’t you tell us who Larry Pratt was? By now, most people know in this country. And how did you find it out?
CHARLES LEWIS: Well, yeah, we mentioned that he was associated with white supremacist and racist organizations in terms of speaking before them, but also—and this got lost a little bit in all the coverage; Buchanan put him on leave within an hour of our news conference—but the other thing that I thought was incredibly significant was that he taught hate groups, underground right-wing organizations, how to develop militias. He wrote a few books. One book he wrote was called Safeguarding Liberty: The Constitution and Citizen Militias. That’s a book he edited. But his—the one he wrote himself was Armed People Victorious in 1990. And as I pointed out in the news conference, this is not what we perceive as normal behavior for the official of a campaign.
AMY GOODMAN: What’s interesting, when I heard him speak to the press afterwards, he said it was not fair to paint him with the same brush as the people he happened to attend meetings with. He said, after all, it wasn’t only white Aryans; he also did work with feminists, and he didn’t like that, too.
CHARLES LEWIS: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: I thought it was interesting on this day.
CHARLES LEWIS: No, it was very obnoxious. And, you know, he made it sound like he just bumped into these people, and they just happened to be there. The problem is, he’s been in several meetings. And groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center and Klanwatch and all these groups that have been tracking hate groups literally for two decades or more were well aware of Pratt. And in fact, the same night that we—I mean, the same day that we presented this information, Nightline did an entire half hour and had footage of Pratt speaking before some of these groups, which they had gotten from the Southern Poverty Law Center down in Alabama.
AMY GOODMAN: How did you get the information on Larry Pratt? I mean, it wasn’t that this was absolutely new news.
CHARLES LEWIS: No, that’s right. Well, you know, we—we do studies. This was actually our 19th study in about five years. And we had folks who spent about six months looking at information around 150 to 200 advisers to the presidential candidates. And we just gathered up everything we could find. I mean, we did document searches, election records and financial disclosure records. And you name it, we tried to find it. But a lot of secondary source stuff, not just mainstream media articles, but, you know, a lot of more obscure—everything from newsletters to, you know, all kinds of things. And we just gathered it up. And, you know, it turns out there’s quite some amazing things about other folks that’s in the study, but no one paid any attention to it because Pratt was so intriguing to a lot of people, and all the extremist discussions of Buchanan followed really from the Pratt revelation.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Charles Lewis. He is author of the book, The Buying of the President: An Inside Look at the Special Interests Behind Clinton, Dole, Gramm, Wilson, Alexander, Buchanan, and Others, and his latest study, Under the Influence: The 1996 Presidential Candidates and Their Campaign Advisers. When we come back after this musical break, we want to talk about some of those campaign advisers and then the money behind the candidates. You’re listening to Democracy Now!
AMY GOODMAN: You’re listening to Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman. And remember, if you like this show and you have friends in other parts of the country that can’t get Democracy Now!, in fact they can. They just have to call their community or public radio station and ask them to run Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! That’s Pacifica’s national daily grassroots election show. We’re talking to Charles Lewis. Again, he is head and founder of the Center for Public Integrity. Formerly, he was a senior producer at 60 Minutes. And he’s written the book, The Buying of the President: An Inside Look at the Special Interests Behind Clinton, Dole, Gramm, Wilson, Alexander, Buchanan, and Others. And his latest study, which, by the way, you can get from the Center for Public Integrity—
CHARLES LEWIS: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: —is called Under the Influence: The 1996 Presidential Candidates and Their Campaign Advisers. Let’s talk about some of those advisers. What about Bill Clinton’s?
CHARLES LEWIS: Well, the most interesting one to us, actually—and I know it’s been reported, but we had some new information about him—is this sort of campaign strategist, Dick Morris. We found that Clinton had been talking to him in the White House as early as the middle and late '93, after just—he was only in office a few months. And at that time, Morris was representing many Republicans around the country. And so, it has been reported before that he used to do that, but no longer, and this information shows that this strategist, this basically Republican strategist, who's known the Clintons for years, was really talking to both sides simultaneously, which sort of has been hinted at or suggested, but we—it was more clear.
AMY GOODMAN: And what about Dick Morris, beyond just being a Republican strategist?
CHARLES LEWIS: Well, I mean, in that—I mean, we have 150 of them. That is probably the most interesting thing, that we have an October 30th meeting in the White House with Clinton. We don’t know what was said, but that’s—that’s several months or a year earlier than anyone thought they were talking, that they had reestablished contact.
One of the things that really got us was with Forbes, for example. There’s an adviser named Tom Ellis, who has got serious problems in his past, as well. And in the '50s, he wrote—and this caused him to not get a job in the ’80s—he wrote that school integration had as its goal, quote, "racial intermarriage and the disappearance of the Negro race by fusing it into white." The Forbes campaign would not really discuss much about Ellis, and Ellis wasn't all that forthcoming, either. But I—you know, I should point out, we’ve had a lot of problems with Forbes. Forbes—we were the first organization in the country to ask for his tax returns late last year, and we estimated that he would save half his taxes with the flat tax that he was proposing. That’s half of his own taxes. And so, anyway, that was interesting with Forbes.
With Dole, one thing that we found is that at one point he said that it’s a terrible thing that we have this revolving door, that people were enriching themselves off their public service and that—basically giving the impression to the public, off—on the Senate floor, that he hated the idea of people going from public service into private enrichment or private sector—you know, becoming lobbyists. We found that there are 18 people in his campaign who have gone through the revolving door. And we interviewed many of them about that, and we have them quoted discussing the revolving door. So, anyway, there’s a lot of this kind of stuff laced all through it.
Another co-chairman of Buchanan’s, currently still the co-chairman, has railed against the entertainment industry in Southern California and said that it has too many non-Christians, and actually said many times that it has too many Jewish people running it, the entertainment industry.
AMY GOODMAN: Who is that?
CHARLES LEWIS: This is Reverend Wildmon, W-I-L-D-M-O-N, from Biloxi, Mississippi. He’s currently the co-chairman, one of the four co-chairmen of the campaign. I wrote an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times this past Sunday pointing that out, and, you know, the press at this point is numb. There have been so many—there have been three people, I guess, that have been kicked out because of revelations, two more after Pratt. And I think at this point no one wants to hear any more about his advisers—
AMY GOODMAN: And right after—
CHARLES LEWIS: —including Buchanan.
AMY GOODMAN: Right after Pratt, I guess it was, this woman in Florida—
CHARLES LEWIS: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: —who was a temporary county chair, who was with the National Association for the Advancement of White People?
CHARLES LEWIS: Right, exactly.
AMY GOODMAN: You’re listening to Chuck Lewis, who is head of the Center for Public Integrity. You can get his study, Under the Influence, from the Center for Public Integrity, based in Washington, D.C., and his book, The Buying of the President, which you can get in any bookstore. Let’s talk about the money behind these candidates, and let’s begin with—with President Clinton.
CHARLES LEWIS: Well, his number one source of money in '92 and in ’96 are lawyers and lobbyists, which is kind of interesting, because he railed against influence peddling and politics as usual in Washington, but we don't really think of him as—I mean, the public may not recognize that he’s that close to lawyers and lobbyists. $2.6 million has been collected already in the ’96 election from that group. His number one patron—we devised a phrase we call "career patrons," and we went back over 10 or 20 years, and—because politicians frequently say, "I only took a thousand dollars; that means nothing to me," even though, you know, less than 1 percent of the American people ever write a check to anybody for $200 or higher. So, this is a very exclusive game.
But anyway, his number one career patron is Goldman Sachs, the investment bank in New York. And they gave—employees gave $107,000 over his career to Clinton. And Clinton knew a lot of Goldman Sachs people in Arkansas before he became president. And $300,000 came from the then-chairman of Goldman Sachs, Robert Rubin, to—to the Democratic Party, to help ensure Clinton’s election. Then, of course, Rubin is named to the Cabinet. He’s currently serving his second Cabinet post as treasury secretary. It was Rubin who handled the Mexican bailout, which is one of the big issues that Goldman Sachs was worried about.
AMY GOODMAN: And made money off of.
CHARLES LEWIS: And made a ton of money, yeah, millions.
AMY GOODMAN: Because, in fact, didn’t most of that money not go south of the border, but went to Wall Street?
CHARLES LEWIS: Went to the bond holders. No, that’s exactly right. And that’s just one example. That’s the first patron.
We also—I mean, we should also say that, you know, this number two donor—and there’s another one in there, too—are from unions. A teachers’ union in New York gave $100,000. AFL-CIO and other unions have given $7 or $8 million to the Democratic Party since ’92, which would of course benefit Clinton.
But another relationship we identified, which is not in the top ten, but it was fascinating, was NationsBank, which, you know, wanted legislation for interstate branch banking. They couldn’t get it through Congress. Clinton helped them out. September 29th, 1994, it’s signed into law in the cash room of the Treasury Department by Clinton. And two weeks later—this would save NationsBank $50 million a year by their own estimates to their shareholders. Within two weeks, they do a three-and-a-half-million-dollar loan at a favorable interest rate to the Democratic Party at a critical moment, right before the November ’94 elections. Now, the Democratic Party, the White House and NationsBank all say this is completely unrelated, of course.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go back for a second—
CHARLES LEWIS: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: —to the AFL-CIO. They’re not getting much for their money, are they? I mean, here they opposed NAFTA, mounted a pretty fierce campaign against it. Clinton mounts a very fierce campaign for it, buying off—
CHARLES LEWIS: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: —a lot of the congressmembers by working out these sweetheart deals in their districts. And this is what the AFL-CIO gets for hundreds of thousands of dollars?
CHARLES LEWIS: Well, the AFL-CIO—well, they’ve made a strategic decision, actually many years ago, decades ago, that they would try to compete with big corporations in terms of the money game. Some would say it’s a fateful decision, because there’s no way labor unions are going to be able to match corporate—I mean, they’re outspent three- and four-to-one by corporations still to this day. So now you have the new president of the AFL-CIO, John Sweeney, saying that he’s going to spend $35 million, to sprinkle it around to try to win certain races. In terms of fighting for campaign finance reform, labor unions have always been reticent and reluctant, largely because of the strategy that they’ll just put money in the game, too, and try to get access. And access means an awful lot to them. I’ve asked them, "What happened about NAFTA?" And their answer is that for 12 years, with Reagan and Bush administrations, they couldn’t get a single phone call returned, that presidents of these big unions would be completely 100 percent shut out from the entire administrations in Washington. And even if they don’t get what they want, at least they get their phone calls returned. Well, you know, that’s too bad, but it’s—their strategy has always been too much—I think many people would say, too much oriented towards Washington. And I think even the AFL-CIO now recognizes that. But it’s—you know, it’s really a fascinating saga. You could write books just on the labor strategy of the last few years and what’s happened and the role of money in all that.
AMY GOODMAN: So, before, they didn’t get a call returned; now they get a call returned, and they’re told, "You lose."
CHARLES LEWIS: That’s exactly right. Well, and, you know, they have an ally that they use. I mean, when Gingrich and the Republicans took over the House in '94 — we do talk about in The Buying of the President —at that point, the relationship did start to improve, because suddenly labor and the White House needed each other on several—I mean, then they became allies again in certain issues in the Congress. But it is a fascinating tale about labor. It's no question.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s turn for a minute to Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole and his money.
CHARLES LEWIS: Well, the most interesting thing about Dole, you know, when Bill Clinton was four years old, Bob Dole was a state legislator in Kansas. And, you know, he’s been around as a public servant for 45 years. We looked at four Senate campaigns, three presidential campaigns, a leadership political action committee and a nonprofit foundation, and tallied up more than $70 million that he has collected from special interests—more than any other active candidate right now in this presidential race. And nine out of his top 10 career patrons are from not—not from his native state of Kansas. And the number one patron, which has gotten a lot of publicity since this book came out, of course, is the Gallo wine family. And Gallo gave him $381,000 over his career. He’s helped them get millions of dollars in tax breaks and other favors, which we lay out in great detail in The Buying of the President.
And the interest that most people associate with Dole is Archer-Daniels-Midland, the big multi-billion-dollar agribusiness giant, and they’ve given over $200,000 to Dole, taken him on 35 trips on their corporate jet just in the last dozen years. And the chairman of the company, Dwayne Andreas, sold the Doles a condominium in the early '80s below the market price. The first mortgage payment was six months after the purchase—more than six months. And Dole, meanwhile, has helped them get billions of dollars in subsidies. He's introduced more than two dozen bills to assist them. He’s really been their best friend in Congress. So, that’s a fascinating relationship. And the point of The Buying of the President is that every time you vote for a politician, you’re getting a package deal. You’re also getting his or her patrons. And one of the patrons you’ll definitely get with Bob Dole is ADM.
AMY GOODMAN: ADM, which also sponsors the Sunday morning talk shows, along with General Electric.
CHARLES LEWIS: Well, no, that’s exactly right. A lot of them, almost all those shows, you’ll see big ads. "Supermarket to the world, Archer-Daniels-Midland." And you don’t see too many critical discussions on those shows about agricultural subsidies, for example.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, tell me, will you be doing a report on the buying of the media?
CHARLES LEWIS: We should. We have been pondering what to do about the whole tobacco issue. And a lot of my friends, investigative reporters throughout the media, who have had stories thwarted about tobacco just in the last six months, some of which has not been reported, a lot of them think that there’s a need for someone to tell the public what’s really happening with the tobacco in the media, beyond the networks and the recent ABC-CBS debacles. And so, anyway, I—we are thinking about that. The tricky thing for our organization is, we’re—the mainstream media actually respects what we do and reports it fairly substantially, I mean, and so it’s a very delicate matter for us to—whether it’s telecom or some of these other issues of—strategically, we have got to be—I think we’re at a point now, after 19 studies in five years, that we can pretty much do whatever we want, but it’s a very important decision to do what you just said.
AMY GOODMAN: Why did you move from being a senior producer at 60 Minutes, where you are assured that your pieces will be seen by tens of millions of people around the country? Why did you leave that to do—set up a center?
CHARLES LEWIS: Well, I should point out I was just a producer, not a senior producer. Someone might be upset with me in New York. Just kidding. Although I would have liked to have been paid as one. Well, I was frustrated. I’ve never really ever told the whole story about that, but I—my piece led the show on a Sunday night, and I quit the next day. And I gave notice and started the center.
AMY GOODMAN: What piece?
CHARLES LEWIS: I did a story about foreign lobbying, called "Foreign Agent," and I had 10 aides to Bush and Dukakis in the '88 presidential campaign working for foreign governments and foreign corporations. And we had trade officials on a Friday working for the U.S. and Monday working for Japan or Hong Kong or Germany or whoever. And I was stunned, you know, at what I had found. But I guess what I'm getting at here is I got frustrated. There were many, many stories, investigative stories, that I wanted to do, not just at 60 Minutes but at ABC also, when I had been there, and they didn’t get on. And—but it’s not just that. It’s—there were just situations where I wanted to look at stories and look at certain issues, and I didn’t have the time to try to solve a 20-year-old murder in two weeks.
It just—I wanted to—so the idea of the Center for Public Integrity is really a humble attempt at utopia. Unfettered by time or space, we can take one or two years. We have dozens of researchers. We had more than a hundred researchers on The Buying of the President. And so, ultimately, you know, I didn’t know that it would blossom quite the way it has as an organization. We just brought in the National Journal managing editor. We have a number three official from NBC who’s joined us a year-and-a-half ago, who’s one of the co-founding directors. And we’re starting to really amass an expatriate group of quality journalists who have chosen another route to go.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I recommend to people one of your first studies—I guess it came out of that report— The Torturers’ Lobby —
CHARLES LEWIS: Oh, right, right.
AMY GOODMAN: —showing companies like Hill & Knowlton and Burson-Marsteller representing Indonesia and others, but it’s a very, very important study to know who is connected to who—
CHARLES LEWIS: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: —what government and what person, who is very powerful in this administration or Congress. Let me ask you quickly—we just have a few minutes—about the controversy—there’s been a little back-and-forth with David Broder and you, of The Washington Post. He says you’re making too much of money in politics.
CHARLES LEWIS: Right. Well, yeah, and we wrote an editorial back in the Post, which they have—I was glad to see they did run. But, I mean, he said that we contributed to the public cynicism. We pointed out that Iran-Contra and the S&L scandal and the HUD scandal and the defense procurement scandal and the resignation of the speaker of the House and the check-bouncing scandal and about 10 other scandals could have contributed somewhat to the public cynicism. And the idea that our book is along those lines is ridiculous. The basic problem here is, political reporters have ignored this story. It’s like they missed the biggest stories of their entire lives the last 20 years. Instead of looking at where the money comes from and what it buys, they’ve looked at how money affects how they should judge a candidacy: If they have a lot of money, they must really be a major candidate. And it’s been very superficial by political reporters. They want to stay on the bus. They want access to the candidates. And we don’t—we don’t care about access, the Center for Public Integrity. And so, we go behind and look at the money. And so, he didn’t like what we did because, you know, he is very close to the candidates and the power structure. And, you know, it was unfortunate that he had—you know, but Max Frankel, the former executive editor of The New York Times, wrote a glowing column about the book, raving about it in The New York Times Magazine, and many other things happened. So, it’s [inaudible].
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to say, we invited David Broder to join us, but he was too busy, he said, right now. I want to thank you, Chuck Lewis, for joining us. We have a lot more to talk about. I want to also ask you about Forbes’s money, since everyone always says that it is his own money, but he’s getting money from other places, as well.
CHARLES LEWIS: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: But we are out of time, so we have to have you back. When we both go back to Washington—
CHARLES LEWIS: OK.
AMY GOODMAN: —I hope you’ll come into our studios.
CHARLES LEWIS: Absolutely.
AMY GOODMAN: You’ve been listening to Chuck Lewis, and he is author of The Buying of the President: An Inside Look at the Special Interests Behind Clinton, Dole, Gramm, Wilson, Alexander, Buchanan, and Others. And he’s head and founder of the Center for Public Integrity. If people want to get a copy of the reports that you’ve put out, the number they can call?
CHARLES LEWIS: Yeah, (202) 783-3900. And we have a website that’s in the top 5 percent of all websites on the Internet right now and has the Under the Influence advisers study on the—in full text on the website.
AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s what you can do, folks. Look up on the website, and we’ll give you more information on that Monday.
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