Photo Credit: Autoblog Green
It’s getting a little predictable. Go to a big car event like the North American International Auto Show or the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) World Congress and you’re going to see politicians and government officials. I suppose that’s to be expected, but to be honest, I’m a little ticked off at how our public servants get a large megaphone at those events without bearing any of the costs that you, I, or a car company would have to pay for for the same treatment.
For the past three years particularly because of the meltdown of the domestic automakers, the bailout and the US Treasury’s subsequent stakes in GM (still held) and Chrysler (divested so that Fiat could own more), but really since the beginning of time, politicians and auto shows went together. I remember, after a press conference where Wayne County (MI) executive Robert Ficano exchanged gifts with the chairman of the People’s Army owned automaker Changfeng, asking Mr. Ficano just how many Changfeng employees voted in Wayne County. During the ’08 presidential election, most of the primary candidates on the Republican side visited the show’s press preview.
That was before ‘carmaggedon’ in Detroit. Now the politicians are as thick as flies, drawn like moths to the lights of the tv crews and the chance to have a free soapbox in front of over 5,000 reporters. You should have seen them rush to preen next to Sergio Marchionne. Like I said, it ticks me off. Marchionee and Fiat had to spend big bucks to be on the floor at Cobo Hall. Rental for a large exhibit at the NAIAS must surely run into 7 figures, plus construction costs. If our esteemed ed Ed wanted to have a press conference at the Detroit show, it would have cost our corporate overlords beaucoup bux. However, when Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer want to hold a press conference at that same show, the organizers, most likely out of a sense of self-preservation, make that lecturn, microphone and CCTV available gratis.
That’s not bad enough. This past January, a congressional delegation of more than two dozen members of congress and over a dozen support personnel, led by then Speaker Pelosi and including, it should be pointed out, members of the Michigan delegation like representatives Gary Peters, Sander Levin, Fred Upton, Pete Hoekstra, and John Dingell as well as senators Levin, Stabenow visited Detroit for the NAIAS. The government accountability group Judicial Watch filed a Freedom Of Information Act request for the cost of that delegation. It turns out that you and I paid over $34,000 for travel, food, ground transportation in Michigan, and incidentals so that Mrs. Pelosi and her colleagues could get that free microphone [Ed: for that amount, we could have covered that show]. To be sure, some of that money stayed in Detroit. Metro Cars, the livery service, and Fishbone’s restaurant, along with the Old Shillelagh, a bar, did okay. They spent $128.77 on hospitality room supplies like Doritos, Cheetos and Coke. Fourteen hotel rooms were booked at $275/night.
Pelosi had asked for military jets, but that was turned down and the delegation flew commercial which cost $24K, except for the congressional physician and some military support staff. At the show, one member of the delegation, I think it was Steve LaTourette from Ohio, told me that he drove himself, in his own car, which as car enthusiasts I suppose we should salute. A request for reimbursement for $228 for use of a personal car was submitted.
At the time, Pelosi’s office explained the need for the trip in the following terms:
Our bipartisan delegation will visit Detroit to see first-hand the innovative technologies the industry is investing in to create the jobs of the future and to ensure our national competitiveness,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said. “We go to Detroit with our commitment to continue to preserve our manufacturing base, which is essential to our economic and national security
“Congress made an historic commitment to the auto industry to drive innovation and modernization, and to save hundreds of thousands of jobs.It was critical that taxpayer dollars received proper oversight and the bipartisan visit was critical to that process.”