Influence peddlers seem to know more about the Trans-Pacific Partnership than Congress

Map showing projections of increased U.S. exports to countries that are part of the Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations.

The restrictions the Obama administration has placed on members of Congress wishing to peruse the text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a managed trade agreement among the United States and 11 other countries, are something of a shock in a democratic republic. Lawmakers can bring staff, but only those with the necessary security clearances. They can take notes, but must surrender them to the guards upon leaving. They may not bring in electronic devices such as cameras or cellphones that could be used to copy passages of the bill.

As Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., pointed out in an impassioned floor speech attacking the restrictions, the document is not a matter of national security, but rather regulates commercial transactions among nations. The administration made the text available to Congress under the aforementioned restrictions in a bid to win its support for fast track trade authority, allowing the president to negotiate the deal and then submit it to Congress for an up-or-down vote, with no amendments.

The extreme secrecy of the text hasn’t stopped interest groups from lobbying in its favor, though. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is pushing the agreement, quoting studies on the unread document that project it will lead to a $124 billion surge in U.S. exports by 2025. A review of first quarter lobbying filings shows 134 corporations, 78 trade associations and 13 labor unions lobbying on the bill. The interests pushing the pact include industry groups like the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Research of America and the American Apparel and Footwear Association, corporations like Caterpillar and Coca-Cola, agricultural groups like the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the National Milk Producers Federation and the National Chicken Council, and the Emergency Committee for American Trade (ECAT).

Business leaders formed the latter group in 1967 to battle what it called protectionist measures under consideration in Congress, and it has been in emergency mode ever since. Its president is Calman J. Cohen, who joined in 1981 after working as the congressional liaison at the Office of the United States Trade Representative, the government organization charged with negotiating trade agreements to create “higher living standards for families, farmers, manufacturers, workers, consumers, and businesses.” Pushing those policies has certainly raised Cohen’s living standard. ECAT’s most recent disclosure with the Internal Revenue Service showed his salary was $415,000 a year, or $15,000 more than President Barack Obama makes.

Domestic interests won’t be the only ones pushing the bill. Japan, one of the 11 trans-Pacific partners, has hired five new lobbying and public relations firms to present its view on the trade deal. Among the land of the rising sun’s new foreign agents is the Larson Shannahan Slifka Group, which will “help to educate … public officials by providing information on the benefits of the Trans Pacific Partnership.” The three named principals may not be household names, but Charles Larson, Joe Shannahan and Karen Slifka have all played key rolls in Iowa politics, working for governors, senators, political parties and presidential primary campaigns. They were brought into the Japanese orbit by DCI Group, another newly hired foreign agent. Brian McCabe, the operative responsible for the Ashley’s story ad from the 2004 election, which showed the daughter of a 9/11 victim being comforted by George W. Bush, signed the agreement with the government of Japan.

Japan has also hired the Daschle Group, the “policy affiliate” of Baker Donelson that’s led by former Senate majority leader Tom Daschle. While the Daschle Group has never registered with Congress as a lobbyist, in March it registered as a foreign agent for Japan. The Daschle Group does not say which issues it will be addressing for the country, but says that it might be contacting “officials in U.S. executive branch departments and agencies, with members and staff of the U.S. Congress,” and others on behalf of Japan. Both Daschle and his son, Nathan Daschle, have disclosed to the U.S. Department of Justice that they’ll be acting as influence peddlers for Japan.

Like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Japan, Tom Daschle and the rest of the lobbyists, the Emergency Committee on American Trade, the American Apparel and Footwear Association, Coca-Cola and Caterpillar will no doubt be touting the benefits of a trade deal whose terms are still so secret that members of Congress cannot even have a copy of to study in their offices. No doubt figures like the $124 billion in added exports will be touted by lobbyists as proof that the deal will greatly advance the interests of Americans. Which begs the question: Why would anyone pay lobbyists a small fortune to persuade you something was much more in your interest than theirs?