Showing posts with label influence peddling. Show all posts
Showing posts with label influence peddling. Show all posts

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The difference between Chiquita and plantains

At some point, the story below will hit the American newspapers. Some time after that -- perhaps in the library of the federal prison in Oakdale, La. -- former Louisiana Gov. Edwin W. Edwards will see the headline "Bush lobbyist promises access for presidential library cash," throw the paper aside under a guard's wary gaze, then mutter "Son of a bitch!"

And it will occur to the silver-haired old man once again that his big mistake in shaking down casino operators all those years ago was that, in his hubris, he wasn't subtle enough. That he didn't have a distant-enough middle man to give him that certain je ne sais quoi -- Comment tu dit en anglais? -- "plausible deniability."

DAMN THAT George W. Bush and all his Washington money . . . all his Washington lobbyists . . . his damned presidential library. "Why couldn't I have rounded up a lobbyist pal or two?" the erstwhile "Silver Zipper" will think. "Why not a @#$&*!!#$! Edwin W. Edwards Gubernatorial Library?"

Why not, indeed. In today's editions, The Sunday Times (London) outlines how the old grafter could have gotten away with it . . . and stayed out of the federal slammer . . . if he had been Washington slick in addition to Louisiana greedy:

A lobbyist with close ties to the White House is offering access to key figures in George W Bush’s administration in return for six-figure donations to the private library being set up to commemorate Bush’s presidency.

Stephen Payne, who claims to have raised more than $1m for the president’s Republican party in recent years, said he would arrange meetings with Dick Cheney, the vice-president, Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state, and other senior officials in return for a payment of $250,000 (£126,000) towards the library in Texas.

Payne, who has accompanied Bush and Cheney on several foreign trips, also said he would try to secure a meeting with the president himself.


During an undercover investigation by The Sunday Times, Payne was asked to arrange meetings in Washington for an exiled former central Asian president. He outlined the cost of facilitating such access.

“The exact budget I will come up with, but it will be somewhere between $600,000 and $750,000, with about a third of it going directly to the Bush library,” said Payne, who sits on the US homeland security advisory council.

He said initially that the “family” of the Asian politician should make the donation. He later added that if all the money was paid to him he would make the payment to the Bush library. Publicly, it would appear to have been made in the politician’s name “unless he wants to be anonymous for some reason”.

Payne said the balance of the $750,000 would go to his own lobbying company, Worldwide Strategic Partners (WSP).

Asked by an undercover reporter who the politician would be able to meet for that price, Payne said: “Cheney’s possible, definitely the national security adviser [Stephen Hadley], definitely either Dr Rice or . . . I think a meeting with Dr Rice or the deputy secretary [John Negroponte] is possible . . .

“The main thing is that he [the Asian politician] comes, and he’s well received, that he meets with high-level people . . . and we send positive statements made back from the administration about ‘This guy wasn’t such a bad guy, many people have done worse’.”
WHEN YOU HEAR folks in Washington talk about Louisiana as a "banana republic," what one needs to realize is it's not a slam on the Gret Stet as a corrupt, less-than-democratic kleptocracy where the rich get richer and the poor poorer. Though, of course, the Bayou State is all that.

What your unctuous Washington swell really is saying is "Look at those rubes and bumpkins. They play the game so crudely . . . they are soooooo declassé!"

And the Beltway swell will have a point. At its heart, Louisiana is a country kind of place.

As a banana republic, the Gret Stet is all about Ricky Bobby, two-steps, Chiquita and
Abita Turbodog lager. That'll "git 'er done," but you must admit it's lacking in the panache department.

Washington, on the other hand, is the seat of government of a much better class of banana republic. Inside the Beltway, it's all about the National Symphony at Kennedy Center, the horizontal bop with a $2,000 "escort," fried plantains and Cabernet Sauvignon.

NO, GEORGE W. BUSH has his Stephen Payne, and -- alas -- El Presidente probably won't be dressing in khaki jumpsuits and looking forward to a daily "exercise period" anytime soon.

Damn pity, that.

UPDATE: Don't forget to check out this revealing sidebar on what a little -- OK, a lot -- of cash and the right lobbyist can get you from the White House these days:

What Payne did not know was that the third person at the Lanesborough meeting last Monday was an undercover Sunday Times reporter. Nor did he know that the meeting was being recorded.

The Sunday Times had initially approached Dos earlier for help in investigating corrupt practices in his homeland of Kazakhstan. Many business deals there are said to involve the discreet transfer of money between figures high up in the Kazakh regime and western companies.

Dos is exiled from Kazakhstan after setting up his own political party, Atameken, at the end of 2006. He was forced to flee following threats to his life.

Before that happened, however, he acted as an adviser to Timur Kulibayev, the billionaire son-in-law of Nursultan Nazarbayev, the Kazakh president, and a man of considerable influence within the country.

Dos said that in the autumn of 2005 he had been asked by the Kazakh government, via Kulibayev, to arrange a visit by Cheney. The intention was to improve the country’s international standing.

Dos had spent several days negotiating with Payne. A deal was eventually agreed, he said, and he understood that a payment of $2m was passed, via a Kazakh oil and gas company, to Payne’s firm.

The following May, Cheney made a brief trip to Kazakhstan. His visit was remarked upon in the media at the time, both for the lavish praise which he publicly heaped on Nazarbayev and for the stark contrast between this and a speech he had made just a day earlier at a conference in Lithuania in which he had lambasted Russia for being insufficiently democratic. Now he was lauding Nazarbayev, who has effectively made himself president for life and in whose country it is an offence to criticise him.

“Why did Cheney castigate Russia’s imperfect democracy while saying not a word about Kazakhstan’s shameless travesty of the democratic system?” said one newspaper following the visit. “Cheney’s flattery of the Kazakh regime was sickening,” said another.

Dos believes some of the money paid to WSP may have found its way to “entities” connected to the Bush administration.

In order to test which channels might be available to foreigners seeking influence within the US, Dos agreed to approach Payne, at The Sunday Times’s request, with a fabricated story about Akayev wanting to rehabilitate himself in the eyes of the world. Akayev was not aware of the approach to Payne.

Dos initially contacted Payne, who is based in Houston, Texas, via e-mail, and mentioned the possibility of making payments to “the Republican party or any other institutions affiliated with the Bushes”. Payne responded quickly, saying he was in London the following week.

The meeting at the Lanesborough began with Payne explaining that later that evening he was meeting a Conservative MP, Mark Pritchard, in order to sign him up as a paid “adviser” to WSP. Also due to meet Payne later was Liam Fox, the shadow defence secretary, apparently for separate discussions.

Pritchard’s value to Payne lay in his position as chairman of the House of Commons all- party Russia group. The MP, Payne said, had named his price, and it was acceptable to him.

So certain, in fact, was Payne that Pritchard would “cement the relationship” that night that he had already included him in his latest “confidential” brochure as one of WSP’s consultants.
I PREDICT the Russians and Edwin Edwards are going to become pen pals with an axe to grind.

probably not. But you'd like to think. Good grief.