A Close look at Wendy Gramm
In this the final part of my investigation into the Gramms, I’d like to deal with Wendy’s relationship with Rick Perry and another influential power broker.
|Dr. Wendy Lee Gramm|
The Mercatus Center
The Mercatus Center of George Mason University, where Wendy Gramm is a director of the “regulatory studies program”, is a case in point. Mercatus is an increasingly influential anti-regulatory voice-machine created and subsidized by Koch Industries. Over the years, the university and its associated institutes and centers has received more funding from the Koch Family Charitable Foundations than any other organization—a total of $29,604,354. Of that sum, The Mercatus Center has received $1,442,000.
Like many oil companies, Koch uses legitimate hedging products to create price stability. However, the documents reveal that Koch is also participating in the unregulated derivatives markets as a financial player, buying and selling speculative products that are increasingly contributing to the skyrocketing price of oil. Excessive energy speculation today is at its highest levels ever, and even Goldman Sachs now admits that at least $27 of the price of crude oil is a result from reckless speculation rather than market fundamentals of supply and demand. Many experts interviewed by ThinkProgress argue that the figure is far higher, and out of control speculation has doubled the current price of crude oil.
Mercatus, however serves a different function in the Koch machine.
Pollution into an Arkansas waterway
A Koch Industries paper mill is violating the Clean Water Act by pumping out massive amounts of pollution into an Arkansas waterway, according to an EPA enforcement complaint to be filed tomorrow by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and the Ouachita Riverkeeper.The complaint alleges that a Georgia-Pacific paper mill on the Coffee Creek in Arkansas – owned by the billionaire Koch Brothers -emits 45 million gallons of paper mill waste including hazardous materials like ammonia, chloride, and mercury each dayCoffee Creek then flows into Louisiana’s Ouachita River where the pollutants have left the formerly pristine water speckled with odorous foam, slime and black pockets of water, said Jerry Johnson, who has been visiting the Ouachita River for 35 years.”People used to swim in it,” said Johnson, who now lives along the river. “In the summertime, it was the place to go.”
And this is by no means an isolated incident. Another report from 2000 in the New York Times,
A federal grand jury returned a 97-count indictment against Koch Industries today, charging the company, a subsidiary and four employees with environmental crimes at a Texas oil refinery.The defendants were charged with violating federal air pollution and hazardous waste laws at the Koch Petroleum Group’s West Plant refinery near Corpus Christi, Tex., conspiracy and making false statements to state environmental officials, the Justice Department said.
And, one more example, which is more important perhaps -given the links to the controversial ties to Koch and Governor Walker, Wisconsin.
Koch Industries operates twelve industrial facilities in Wisconsin: Georgia-Pacific and its wholly-owned subsidiaries in Green Bay (4 plants), Oshkosh, Phillips, and Sheboygan; and Flint Hills Resources in Green Bay, Junction City, McFarland, Milwaukee, Stevens Point and Waupun… (T)he data reveal that over the course of those three years, Koch Industries’ facilities emitted over 5.4 million pounds (PDF) of toxic discharges into Wisconsin’s air and water. Of these discharges, nearly 100,000 pounds (PDF) were of substances known or suspected to cause cancer.
Thomas McGarity, a law professor at the University of Texas, who specializes in environmental issues, told me that “Koch has been constantly in trouble with the E.P.A., and Mercatus has constantly hammered on the agency.” An environmental lawyer who has clashed with the Mercatus Center called it “a means of laundering economic aims.” The lawyer explained the strategy: “You take corporate money and give it to a neutral-sounding think tank,” which “hires people with pedigrees and academic degrees who put out credible-seeming studies. But they all coincide perfectly with the economic interests of their funders.”
As a Businessweek headline proclaimed:
“Much corporate environmentalism boils down to misleading statistics and hype.”
It is important that you realize who funds the Mercatus Center. Since 1985, the Mercatus Center has received 513 grants totaling $45,347,884. Their top donors have been as follows:
- Koch Family (Includes Claude Lambe Foundation): $24,258,797
- Olin Foundation: $7,530,824
- Scaife Family (includes Carthage Foundation): $5,031,000
- Bradley Foundation: $2,5544,050
- Barre Seid: $2,212,000
- Earhart Foundation: $996,348
- McKenna: $265,000
- Jacquelin Hume Foundation: $260,000
- Smith Richardson: $254,315
- The Walton Family (Wal-Mart): $120,000
- JM Foundation: $85,000
- Castle Rock Foundation (Coors Family): $75,000
Wendy and the Pious Hospital Bed Maker
Molly Ivins reports:
Leninger tends to give his PACs and foundations innocuous names — Texans for Justice, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, the Texas Justice Foundation, Children’s Economic Opportunity Foundation, Texans for Governmental Integrity, the A PAC for Parental School Choice, etc. According to the Current (a weekly alternative paper), Leininger is also a major donor to, or plays a leading role in, at least a dozen major right-wing groups. Politically, he has given not only to Christian-right school board candidates and right-wing legislative candidates but also to Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison and Phil Gramm, and he was Rick Perry’s largest campaign contributor ($500,000) in Perry’s race for lieutenant governor.
On Jan. 13, 1995, Perry bought $38,875 worth of stock in Kinetic Concepts, a company owned by Jim Leininger, a San Antonio physician, conservative activist and major Perry campaign donor. Perry invested an additional $35,167 in the company on Jan. 24, 1996 — the same day he spoke at a luncheon that Leininger attended. Later that day, an investment firm bought 2.2 million shares of Kinetic Concepts stock, driving up its price. Perry sold his Kinetic Concepts holdings a month later for a $38,382 profit. Leininger and Perry acknowledged they spoke at the luncheon but denied discussing the stock.
Perry might never have been governor — nor now be a presidential candidate — but for James Leininger. In a game-changing 1998 race then-Texas Agriculture Commissioner Perry was elected Lieutenant Governor. That victory secured Perry’s automatic promotion to governor two years later when President-Elect Bush abandoned the Governor’s Mansion. Perry narrowly won his fateful 1998 race against Democrat John Sharp, capturing just 50.04 percent of the vote. This squeaker victory was secured by an eleventh-hour media blitz that Perry paid for with a last-minute, $1.1 million loan. Leininger and two other Texas tycoons guaranteed the loan, which supplied more than 10 percent of the $10.3 million that Perry raised for that election. Leininger’s family and company PAC contributed $62,500 to that Perry campaign. Leininger also was the No. 1 contributor at the time to the Texas Republican Party (then chaired by former Leininger employee Susan Weddington), which sank $82,760 into that Perry campaign. “I congratulate Leininger,” Perry opponent John Sharp said at the time. “He wanted to buy the reins of state government. And by God, he got them.”
… TPPF aimed to influence policy by publishing research reports on state issues; its early preoccupations mirrored several of Leininger’s own: tort reform, vouchers, and reduced government. Working in tandem with the new SBOE [State Board of Education] members, the TPPF began objecting to textbook material deemed liberally slanted or morally suspect. The Legislature retaliated in 1995, forbidding the SBOE to question any aspect of textbook content other than “factual errors.” Despite the restriction, the TPPF continued to analyze proposed books, hiring researchers to ferret out errors both of fact and of insufficient patriotism. Last winter the group helped bat down an environmental-science textbook (in large part because of a poorly written sentence linking democracy to pollution); this summer it criticized proposed social science and history textbooks for failing to disavow socialism.
The TPPF supports the predictable conservative line on a whole host of issues. The TPPF disputes the scientific evidence of climate changes and claims that the “scientific consensus has never been as broad as proclaimed,” and the compromised emails of climate scientists showed “data manipulation and fundamental errors now discredit a once broadly accepted body of science.” The “private sector can bring innovation and competition to the criminal justice system” is how the TPPF frames its advocacy of the private prison industry, despite that there has been no evidence to support that the privatization of the prison industry has provided any public savings. The TPPF even has an entire center dedicate to “Tenth Amendment Studies,” which is a favorite Constitutional Amendment among the Tea Party faithful.
Put simply, this is the wrong approach… the classroom is not a marketplace. The proposals reviewed here will not promote effective learning or the responsible use of resources inside a laboratory, library or seminar room. The University of Texas at Austin’s bottom line is to provide a first-class education while spending our resources responsibly and efficiently. Separating those two goals is like separating research from teaching: it serves the wrong bottom line. Similarly, treating students as customers, offering them a “product” designed to win positive reviews and then rewarding the most popular instructors will neither challenge students in meaningful ways nor foster the deep learning and skills they will need throughout life.
Texas A&M University has the support of its former students that is the envy of many universities. Aggies love their alma mater and it shows in many ways. One Aggie, however, should love his school less and, in fact, should stay out of its business. Gov. Rick Perry’s obsession and interference in A&M has caused great harm, damage some observers feel could take a generation to undo. From his appointment of regents with greater fealty to him than to the university system they are supposed to represent to his constant meddling in the day-to-day operations of the flagship university to his infatuation with the Texas Public Policy Foundation — an ultraconservative think tank that seeks to insinuate itself into every corner of state government — Perry has proven not to be a friend of A&M, but rather a hindrance.Never before has a governor of Texas had such deadly influence on a major state university, and Perry’s meddling blocks the way of A&M’s oft-stated efforts to achieve greatness.The Texas Public Policy Foundation seems harmless on the surface, with its stated goals of limited government, individual liberties, free markets, personal responsibility and private property rights. Most Texans probably would subscribe to those goals. Dig below the surface, however, and you see just how radical its efforts are.Founded by arch-conservative physician James Leininger, the foundation board is chaired by Wendy Gramm, former Texas A&M regent and wife of former Sen. Phil Gramm. Current Regent Phil Adams of Bryan is a board member, a clear conflict of interest to his responsibilities to A&M.The foundations website says, “The public is demanding a different direction for their government, and the Texas Public Policy Foundation is providing the ideas that enable policymakers to chart that new course.”Unfortunately, thanks to Perry’s influence, those ideas become mandates, without discussion and input from the people of this great state….Perry has been in thrall to the Texas Public Policy Foundation and its backers since he began accepting generous contributions from them in his first statewide race. Texas cannot, however, be run by contribution and those most able to spend big bucks to help buy elections, no matter which side of the political spectrum they are on.A&M is well on its way to achieving greatness. It would be a shame to let Rick Perry and his cohorts derail that with their interference.Rick Perry can love Texas A&M more by meddling less — preferably not at all. Beyond appointing the best regents he can find — no matter who they contributed to in the last gubernatorial election — and attending football games at Kyle Field, Perry should leave A&M alone.
“All men having power ought to be distrusted to a certain degree”
“If men were angels no government would be necessary”