Its do or die time tonight for Hilary Clinton who must win Ohio and Texas or she’ll have to face throwing in the towel and bow out as the Democratic nominee.Reports suggest that there is a thinning of support – so Who will take the blame for the defeat ? In May, 2007, the Nation magazine ran an insightful article into the relationship between Burson-Marsteller’s top executive world-wide, Mark Penn, and Clinton. Penn is her pollster and chief strategist. Perhaps he might have to take the bullet tonight for the failure. More worrying for Penn is the fall out – and the amount of ink spilled in looking into his methods and his work for Burson-Marsteller,
Burson-Marsteller is hardly a natural fit for a prominent Democrat. The firm has represented everyone from the Argentine military junta to Union Carbide after the 1984 Bhopal disaster in India, in which thousands were killed when toxic fumes were released by one of its plants, to Royal Dutch Shell, which has been accused of massive human rights violations in Nigeria. B-M pioneered the use of pseudo-grassroots front groups, known as “astroturfing,” to wage stealth corporate attacks against environmental and consumer organizations. It set up the National Smokers Alliance on behalf of Philip Morris to fight tobacco regulation in the early 1990s. Its current clients include major players in the finance, pharmaceutical and energy industries. In 2006, with Penn at the helm, the company gave 57 percent of its campaign contributions to Republican candidates.
A host of prominent Republicans fall under Penn’s purview. B-M’s Washington lobbying arm, BKSH & Associates, is run by Charlie Black, a leading GOP operative who maintains close ties to the White House, including Karl Rove, and was former partners with Lee Atwater, the political consultant who crafted the Willie Horton smear campaign used by George H.W. Bush against Michael Dukakis in 1988. Black regularly disparages the Clintons; he has called Hillary a “martyr figure” and said Bill “tearfully embraced…government preferences for homosexual lifestyle.” In recent years Black’s clients have included the likes of Iraq’s Ahmad Chalabi, the darling of the neocon right in the run-up to the war; Lockheed Martin; and Occidental Petroleum. In the summer of 2005 he landed a contract with the Lincoln Group, the disgraced PR firm that covertly placed US military propaganda in Iraqi news outlets. The agreement, according to Intelligence Online, allowed the Lincoln Group to “tap into BKSH’s extensive contacts in the Republican administration.” When asked by The New Yorker if there was too much cronyism in Iraq, Black responded, “I just wish I could find the cronies.”
As expected with such a lineup, B-M has a highly confrontational relationship with organized labor. “Companies cannot be caught unprepared by Organized Labor’s coordinated campaigns,” read the “Labor Relations” section of its website (until it was scrubbed after Mark Schmitt of The American Prospect quoted the language in March). It consults frequently with George Washington University professor Jarol Manheim, author of The Death of a Thousand Cuts: Corporate Campaigns and the Attack on the Corporation and Biz-War and the Out-of-Power Elite: The Progressive-Left Attack on the Corporation. And it lends help to some of the most controversial union-busting efforts in America.
Back in 2003 two large unions, UNITE (which later merged with HERE, the hotel and restaurant union) and the Teamsters, launched a major drive to organize 32,000 garment workers and truck drivers at Cintas, the country’s largest and most profitable uniform and laundry supply company. Its longtime CEO, Richard Farmer, was a mega-fundraising “pioneer” for George W. Bush. Despite posting $3.4 billion in sales and $327 million in profits last year, the company had a record of overcharging consumers, denying workers overtime pay, keeping unsafe working conditions (an employee in Tulsa died recently when caught in a 300-degree drier) and using any means necessary to block the union drive. Management fired employees under false pretenses, according to worker complaints documented by the unions; vowed to close plants; and screened anti-union videos. A plant manager in Vista, California, threatened to “kick driver-employees with his steel-toed boots,” according to a complaint UNITE HERE filed with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). To put a soft face on its harsh tactics, Cintas hired Wade Gates, a top employee in B-M’s Dallas office, as its chief spokesman. Gates coined Cintas’s shrewd response to labor: “the right to say yes, the freedom to say no,” which has been repeated endlessly in the press. In a speech at the USC Gould School of Law last year, Gates outlined Cintas’s strategy, calling for an “aggressive defense against union tactics.” Says Ahmer Qadeer, an organizer for UNITE HERE: “It’s the Burson influence that’s made Cintas much, much slicker than they were.” The unions have won two NLRB rulings against Cintas, but for four years the company has continued to resist the organizing campaign.
Burson-Marsteller is the world’s fifth largest PR company (Source: Council of PR Firms, 2002) and part of the WPP Group. According to a 2004 profile in The Hill, a Washington, DC newspaper, “This multinational PR behemoth has an active public-affairs practice led by Richard Mintz, who ran the media shop at the Department of Transportation during the Clinton administration. He also served as staff director for Hillary Clinton during the 1992 campaign. B-M has won awards recently for its work for the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and the “No on Proposition 54” campaign in California. Its public-affairs practice is bolstered by its affiliation with Direct Impact (grassroots marketing) and BKSH & Associates (lobbying).