The automotive industry lobby group China Association of Automobile Manufacturers is at loggerheads with Beijing over a rule change proposal that would ease restrictions on foreign ownership of auto manufacturing ventures. The fear, according to CAAM Secretary General Dong Yang, is that should the restraining bolt be removed, the local industry would lose control of the joint ventures they currently hold, if not the Chinese auto industry itself.
One of the main topics at the Toyota hearings held in recent weeks is the automaker’s practice of hiring former NHTSA officials to its lobbying team. At the time, we were inclined to believe that Toyota was hardly the only firm engaging in this practice, and thanks to some Washington Post reporting, our suspicions have been confirmed. Early controversy centered around Christopher Santucci and Chris Tinto, two NHTSA Office of Defect Investigation officials who now work for Toyota. In addition to these two, the WaPo has identified former NHTSA lawyers Kenneth Weinstein and Erika Jones as former NHTSA officials who also now work for Toyota. And then there are the former regulators who work for other automakers: Jacqueline Glassman, a former NHTSA chief counsel and then deputy administrator now works for a law firm that represents Nissan and Mercedes. And that’s not all:
Former agency compliance engineer Amanda Prescott now works for Ford. Former agency director of the Office of Crashworthiness Research, Ralph J. Hitchcock, now works for American Honda Motor Co. And past agency administrator Diane Steed is a partner at Strat@Comm, a Washington public relations and lobbying firm that represents General Motors Corp.
And once again, Toyota wriggles out of some of the most damning accusations against it, not by confirming that it actually holds itself to especially high quality and safety standards, but by proving that it’s just like every other automaker. As we noted some weeks ago, this loss of exceptionalism is the ultimate price that Toyota will pay for this scandal (not counting lawyer fees).
State Farm has been a thorn in Toyota’s side since congress geared up to investigate its recall problems. First, the insurance firm disclosed that it had warned the NHTSA of the prevalence of unintended acceleration (UA) in Toyota models back in 2007, then this past weekend, it clarified that it had actually warned the NHTSA of problems back in 2004. All this has added to the perception that Toyota somehow bought the NHTSA’s cooperation in concealing its UA problem, a perception that is accelerating tensions leading up to Akio Toyoda’s capitol hill testimony. Ironically, Toyota took measures to fight its image as a lobbyist-happy Washington manipulator by… hiring more lobbyists. Unfortunately for Toyota, the Legal Times blog reports that one of its recently-hired K-street reinforcements (Quinn Gillespie) had something of a conflict of interest that QG spokesfolks describe as:
another, long-standing client of the firm was in a position adverse to Toyota in connection with certain matters relating to the company’s recall of some of its vehicle lines
A quick look at QG’s client list reveals only one likely candidate: State Farm Insurance. As a result of the conflict, Quinn Gillespie has terminated its deal with Toyota. According to regulatory filings, Toyota paid QG $30,000 for six weeks of work, during which time it lobbied on “issues related to the vehicle recall, as well as proposed reform of the financial regulatory system.”
The Washington Examiner reports that, having previously moved its lobbying efforts to an exclusively in-house arrangement, GM is now hiring outside lobbyists again [UPDATE: GM’s chief in-house lobbyist just retired]. GM has rehired its old lobbying firms the Duberstein Group and Greenberg Traurig, and has added GrayLoeffler to its K-Street roster. GM is also keeping the “well connected” Washington Tax Group on its lobbying payroll, having picked up the firm’s representation in 2007. From these firms, some 18 lobbyists have registered as GM representatives, including a list of what the Wasington Examiner calls “well-connected revolving-door players from both parties.”
Former Reps. William Gray III, D-Pa., and Jim Bacchus, R-Fla., are both on GM retainer, as are fabled Republican and Democratic operatives Ken Duberstein (White House chief of staff under Ronald Reagan) and Michael Berman (counsel to Vice President Walter Mondale and campaign aide to every Democratic presidential nominee since LBJ).
Heading GM’s lobbying push for expanded R&D tax credits is the Washington Tax Group’s Gregory Nickerson, formerly the top lawyer at the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee and the staff director of the Subcommittee on Select Revenue Measures. Nickerson’s partner is Mary Ellen McCarthy, formerly the top lawyer at the Senate’s tax-writing Finance Committee.