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The Two John Kerrys 

Will we get the populist or the lord of special interests?

Thursday, Feb 5 2004
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John Kerry is a man with two faces. There’s the fire-breathing populist whose thundering stump speeches against special interests made him Comeback Kerry, who won in Iowa and New Hampshire and became the Democrats’ indisputable front-runner. And then there’s Corporate Kerry, who has taken more money from lobbyists in the last 15 years than any other senator, according to an analysis of Federal Election Commission data compiled by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics (CRP) — and who has repeatedly carried water for the special interests that smothered him in campaign cash.

Comeback Kerry would also like to be known as Campaign Reform Kerry, the principal co-sponsor, with the late Paul Wellstone, of the Clean Money, Clean Elections bill that would take special-interest cash out of politics in federal elections and replace it with full public financing of campaigns. Kerry has repeatedly boasted of this on the stump — as in the January 6 debate, when he said proudly, “Paul Wellstone and I together wrote the Clean Elections law.” In the 106th, 107th and 108th Congresses, Kerry’s name was on the bill, which has yet to become law. Then Wellstone, the Senate’s liberal conscience, died — and Kerry started running for president. Guess what? In the current, 108th Congress, Cautious Kerry, the decorated war hero, went AWOL, refusing to reintroduce the bill he now boasts about — leaving it with no sponsor in the Senate.

On primary night in New Hampshire, in his victory speech, Kerry again repeated the applause line that won for him: “I have a message for the influence peddlers and the special interests: We’re coming. You’re going. And don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”

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“It’s very hard for Kerry to utter this rhetoric without some hollowness to it,” according to Charles Lewis, the former investigative journalist who heads the Center for Public Integrity and whose quadrennial series of books on The Buying of the President have become best-sellers. Kerry, Lewis says, “has been brought to you by special interests.”

Example: Kerry’s “largest campaign contributor lobbies on behalf of telecommunication interests,” and Kerry “pushed the legislative priorities of its clients in the wireless industry,” according to research for the CPI’s 2004 book (available on its Web site). That contributor, the powerhouse Boston law firm and lobbying shop Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo, is where Kerry’s brother Cameron — a major Kerry-campaign insider — works, and where Kerry’s former chief of staff, David Leiter, is a lobbyist. Mintz, Levin has given at least $231,000 to Kerry.

According to CPI, Mintz, Levin advertises communications law among its areas of expertise and lobbies on behalf of wireless-industry clients such as AT&T Wireless Service, XO Communications Inc. and the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association. CTIA is the trade association of the wireless industry. The center found that CTIA-affiliated companies and their employees have contributed at least $152,000 to Kerry and that since 1999 Kerry has taken positions that closely reflect the legislative agenda of CTIA. He sponsored two bills that CTIA lobbied for and co-sponsored six more. Not only do Kerry’s assiduous efforts on behalf of the telecommunications industry help his brother’s clients, a big chunk of the combined fortune of Kerry and his wife — perhaps as much as $47.1 million — is in telecommunications stock affected by the pro-CTIA legislation Kerry has carried.

Another example is the deregulation of the securities industry. An industry-windfall bill with an Orwellian name, the Securities Litigation Reform Act, was promise number nine in Newt Gingrich’s Contract on America. It stripped legal protections from defrauded investors and made it harder for them to recover damages with a “loser pays” provision; repealed application of the federal rackets law to financial transactions; and sharply curtailed monitoring of Wall Street abuses. A 1995 New York Times editorial called this boon to investment bankers, securities manipulators, and Enron/WorldCom-style corporations and their frauding go-go execs “a threat to American civil justice.” But Kerry not only voted for the bill, he voted to override Bill Clinton’s veto of it. Kerry’s reward: He’s raked in $1,669,000 in contributions from the special interests that benefited from the law, like FleetBoston Financial, CitiGroup, Goldman Sachs and other similar firms.

In this week’s Newsweek, crack investigative reporter Michael Isikoff — in an article entitled “Cash and Kerry” — unveils letters from Kerry to Johnny Chung, a star of the 1996 campaign-finance scandals, who pleaded guilty to giving $28,000 illegally to Kerry’s and Bill Clinton’s campaigns (the money turned out to have come from wire transfers by the head of Chinese military intelligence). In 1996, Kerry — in the fight of his life for re-election against then-Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld — helped grease the way for getting a corporation run by one of Chung’s cronies listed on the stock exchange by arranging a private meeting with the SEC. Kerry’s reward: Chung raised him $10,000 at a Beverly Hills fund-raiser. Kerry has always claimed he never knew Chung until the fund-raiser — but the Newsweek revelations show Kerry, in a handwritten“Dear Johnny” letter, wrote to Chung months earlier that “It means a lot to have someone like you on my team as I face the toughest race of my career.” Newsweek adds that Kerry used his position as a member of the Senate Finance Committee to collect $3 million from firms with an interest in the committee’s work.

With all this sort of thing in Kerry’s past and present, it’s no wonder that the Center for Responsive Politics’ director, Larry Noble, told the Washington Post that “it’s harder for someone like Kerry to take on” Bush over special interests “because he’s taken money from . . . a lot of the same” corporate sectors. The fat cats have flocked to Kerry: 55 percent of his presidential campaign’s cash comes from $2,000 contributors, meaning he’s closing in on Bush (who gets 73 percent from such big-check writers), according to The New York Times. There’s more. Kerry the “populist” voted in 2000 to shred the Community Reinvestment Act, which obliged banks to service impoverished areas and lend them money. Kerry voted just two years ago to repeal the Public Utility Holding Company Act, designed to keep energy prices to consumers low by forbidding utilities companies to invest speculatively in businesses outside the energy field.

Kerry’s Janus-like profile isn’t confined just to serving the special interests while denouncing them to win the Democratic nomination. He voted for the blank check for war in Iraq — and now denounces Bush for “lies” he once believed. On October 9, 2002, Kerry told the Senate, “Why is Saddam Hussein attempting to develop nuclear weapons when most nations don’t even try? . . . Iraq has chemical and biological weapons . . . Iraq is developing unmanned aerial vehicles capable of delivering chemical- and biological-warfare agents.” Of course, every single one of those statements about Iraq has since been proved to be empty rhetoric.

So, the question before Democratic voters is: If you cast your ballot for John Kerry, which one will you get?

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