Washington Post staff writers Michael D. Shear and Dan Balz began their May 31 article on former Sen. Fred Thompson's (R-TN) potential candidacy for the 2008 GOP presidential nomination by noting that, according to "advisers," Thompson "will offer himself as a down-home antidote to Washington politics." Yet the article left out two elements of Thompson's record that undermine this characterization. The Post ignored Thompson's actions in 1997, when, as chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs committee, Thompson suspended an investigation into campaign finance abuses -- reportedly after Republicans expressed concern that committee Democrats planned to investigate questionable and potentially embarrassing GOP fundraising practices, particularly those of two Republican members of the committee. Moreover, the article did not mention Thompson's 18-year career as a lobbyist, during which he reportedly represented deposed Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and a company facing billions of dollars in asbestos claims.
Following is the lead paragraph of Shear and Balz's article, headlined "Thompson Bid Would Stir Up GOP Race":
Fred D. Thompson will offer himself as a down-home antidote to Washington politics in his bid for the Republican presidential nomination, running a campaign out of Nashville while promising leadership on a conservative agenda that will appeal to his party's base, advisers said yesterday.
But Thompson's career in the U.S. Senate was not, in fact, free from "Washington politics." Indeed, on October 31, 1997, as chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs committee, Thompson announced that the committee would temporarily cease its investigation into alleged campaign fundraising abuses by then-President Bill Clinton and then-Vice President Al Gore. (The hearings never resumed.) A November 1, 1997, Boston Globe article (fee required) reported that Thompson ended the investigation "[a]fter Republicans expressed concern that the Senate campaign-finance investigation could lead to a probe of GOP practices" and that "the most outspoken advocate for ending the hearings is Senator Don Nickles, an Oklahoma Republican, who serves on the committee."
A November 1, 1997, Los Angeles Times article (fee required) further reported that Democrats "had planned to call witnesses to show" that Nickles and Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS), both members of the committee, were involved in questionable fundraising practices:
The chairman of the Senate panel investigating campaign fund-raising abuses suspended hearings Friday after nearly four months, saying he believes they established that President Clinton politically exploited the White House in ways his Republican predecessors never did.
Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.) said that after 32 days of hearings, his committee has no more vital information worthy of additional public sessions.
But Democrats noted another motive -- that going further would have required Thompson to give them another turn at playing prosecutor, calling their own witnesses to expose events that could embarrass the Republican Party.
Although Thompson said he reserved the right to resume hearings before the committee's Dec. 31 cutoff date if dramatic new evidence turns up, Democrats noted the suspension came as they were about to examine how two Republicans on the panel had benefited from secret donations given to a conservative consulting group.
Democrats had planned to call witnesses to show that the group, Triad Management Services, accepted donations totaling $ 400,000 to help Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) win election last year. Triad also paid for advertisements to benefit Sen. Don Nickles (R-Okla.), according to documents.
The day before Thompson announced his decision, The New York Times reported that "[d]ocuments released by Senate investigators today identified 20 donors to a private conservative organization [Triad Management Services] that worked outside the normal political channels in ways that benefited conservative Republicans," namely Brownback and Nickles. The Times article reported that the documents revealed that Nickles' political action committee "received tens of thousands of dollars in donations in 1996 from some of Triad's biggest donors" and that funds well over the amount an individual is allowed to donate to a political candidate were funneled through political action committees working with Triad to Brownback's 1996 U.S. Senate race.
In 1998, the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) concluded that Triad had violated federal campaign laws by not registering as a federal political committee. According to a December 7, 2002, Kansas City Star article, the FEC found that "Brownback's in-laws, John and Ruth Stauffer of Topeka, violated federal election laws by funneling excessive campaign donations to him in 1996" through Triad and political action committees working with Triad. The FEC also ordered Brownback's campaign to refund to the U.S. Treasury $19,000 in over-the-limit contributions. A Media Matters for America search of the Lexis-Nexis database did not find any reports that Nickles' reported involvement with Triad resulted in any legal action.
Additionally, the May 31 Post article -- while reporting that Thompson "will offer himself as a down-home antidote to Washington politics" -- did not once mention Thompson's career as a lobbyist. From an April 2 Politico.com article on Thompson's lobbying background:
Over about two decades of lobbying (during which he also acted and practiced law), Thompson made nearly $1.3 million and represented clients including a British reinsurance company facing billions of dollars in asbestos claims, Canadian-owned cable companies, and deposed Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, according to government documents and media accounts from his first run for the Senate in 1994.
An article on Thompson in the April 30 edition of New York Magazine noted that "[c]ritics point out that Thompson's aw-shucks, shit-kicker populism is more than a little bit phony" because "he spent eighteen years as a registered Washington lobbyist, doing the bidding of such high-powered clients as General Electric and Westinghouse, pushing for the passage of the deregulatory legislation that led to the savings-and-loan crisis of the eighties."
Further, on May 31, blogger Glenn Greenwald noted:
Although Thompson does not mention it, he also has been -- for two decades -- what a 1996 profile in The Washington Monthly described as "a high-paid Washington lobbyist for both foreign and domestic interests." This folksy, down-home, regular guy has spent his entire adult life as a lawyer and lobbyist in Washington, except when he was an actor in Hollywood.
In contrast to the Post, a May 31 USA Today article on Thompson's candidacy noted his past lobbying experience:
After a lackluster start, Thompson swapped his tailored suit for a plaid shirt and jeans and began driving a red Chevy pickup across the state in a bid to fill the final two years of Al Gore's term. Despite his background as a Washington lawyer and lobbyist, Thompson derided Congress as larded with legislators who had lost touch with their constituents and, in some cases, their principles.