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L.A. building chief Holguin, who is also on the SAC Project Oversight Committee, claims Miller is a natural choice for the committee because he is knowledgeable about Lincoln’s product. However, Holguin concedes, "Let’s put it this way — all the committee members bring their own biases to the table."
Several of Miller’s industry associates on the SAC project have heard of Lincoln’s Seismic Safety Coalition and are aware of Miller’s involvement, but very few have a clear idea of what the organization is up to. In fact, Alan Goldstein, president of the Structural Engineers Association of California, one of the three organizations that compose the SAC venture, has never even heard of the Seismic Safety Coalition.
Hamburger is likewise in the dark. "I’m not aware of any members of the organization," he says. "But its purpose was to attempt to get some funding from various government sources to show that it would be possible to upgrade existing buildings."
One apparent political success for the Seismic Safety Coalition came at the end of last year when Congressman Lewis’ Appropriations Committee earmarked $40 million for three separate FEMA projects in his home district. Five million of those dollars will be used to demonstrate the financial and technical feasibility of retrofitting a pre-Northridge- designed steel-frame building, chock full o’ E70T-4, on the Cal State campus.
These grants, which were transferred to the state about three weeks ago, are unusual in that none of the recipients ever filed a formal application. "This is a fairly rare earmark," says David Sandretti, communications director for Barbara Boxer, who last year sat on the appropriations subcommittee that oversees FEMA. "Generally speaking, hazard-mitigation earmarks are not as specific as outlined in these appropriations," he says.
Besides Lewis’ obvious devotion to the safety of his constituents, another factor in this generous, and unexpected, appropriation may have been the lobbying technique of Cassidy & Associates on behalf of Lincoln Electric and the Seismic Safety Coalition. On March 20, 1998, the same day the Seismic Safety Coalition registered with the House of Representatives, the wives of Anthony Massaro and John Stropki, Lincoln Electric’s CEO and executive vice president respectively, made $500 donations to the Jerry Lewis campaign fund. It’s not every day that a California congressman impresses the well-to-do housewives of Cleveland. Cassidy showed its support to the tune of $6,539, winding up as the 11th largest contributor to Lewis’ campaign fund in 1998.
And while Sandretti claims that "Senator Boxer did not work for this specific earmark," her campaign fund suggests that Boxer may well have been in the loop. In one day — May 8, 1998 — Boxer received donations from Frederick Stueber, a senior vice president at Lincoln; several key players at Cassidy; and Leon Panetta. Once again, Cleveland took an interest in California politics, while Cassidy filled the role of one of the largest contributors to Boxer’s 1998 campaign fund.
Cassidy’s bread and butter is the art of earmarking appropriations. Through the years the firm has developed a niche representing universities, hospitals and other private entities seeking to tap into the millions of dollars that flow each year from the congressional spigot.
All the various threads of Lincoln’s lobbying effort came together on December 10, 1998, at a meeting on the Cal State San Bernardino campus. The meeting was coordinated by Jeff Shockey, the Lewis aide credited with arranging the $40 million in FEMA grants; in attendance were FEMA district coordinator Christina Lopez, FEMA technical consultant Bob Hanson and three Cal State engineering specialists. The idea was "to tell [the Cal State administrators] that they would have to start putting together details for the project," explains Lopez.
Also on hand were Duane Miller, Lincoln’s weld expert and wearer of many hats, and Jeffrey Lawrence, a representative from Cassidy & Associates. Shockey refused to return numerous calls for this story, as did Miller, so neither could comment on why the two Seismic Safety Coalition members were invited. However, Lopez says, "I was given the impression that Lincoln Electric was going to be working with Cal State San Bernardino on this project."
Surprisingly for a project promising to display the latest technology in welded-steel connections, no one working on the SAC venture, which has been studying the question in great detail over the past four years, has anything to do with it. No one, that is, except Miller. "I was surprised to see him," says Hanson, who knows Miller from overseeing the SAC venture. "I was also surprised to see the person from Cassidy & Associates."
Why all the interest from Lincoln in these appropriation funds? George Soneff, a Santa Monica attorney currently suing Lincoln on behalf of a Westside building-owners group, is convinced that the retrofit project at Cal State San Bernardino is an obvious attempt by Lincoln to shift responsibility for their faulty welds to the hands of the federal government.
"Our lawsuit is the only way that Lincoln can be made to pay for its share of the problem," Soneff said in an interview.
Soneff’s suit alleges that during the 30 years Lincoln Electric marketed E70T-4, it claimed certain durability characteristics even though the company "had no reasonable grounds for believing that they were true." He contends that "This type of welded construction didn’t happen by accident, but rather it happened as a product of years of deceptive advertising and deceptive sales techniques by Lincoln."