Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Congresswoman Josephine Camel

Congresswoman Kirsten Gillibrand has been endorsed for re-election by the American Cancer Society.

Despite the endorsement, the Society's officials likely do not know the full extent of the freshman's legal representation on behalf of Philip Morris during the 1990's. Yes, that Philip Morris, or "Big Tobacco" as the corporation's detractors in the cancer community and the media relentlessly describe it.

The Invisible Law Firms

From 1995 to 2000 Congresswoman Gillibrand was an associate at the international law firm Davis Polk & Wardwell, headquartered in New York City. But New Yorkers wouldn't know she was employed at Davis, Polk & Wardwell for five years because her campaign website does not mention the fact. This experience is also omitted from her official U.S. House of Representatives website biography.

Also curiously cast aside from both her Congressional and campaign biographies is her partnership at Boies Schiller & Flexner, a national firm specializing in unpopular clients. She was employed by the firm from 2001 to 2006. It was her last position before running for the House.

Why would a Member of Congress running for re-election purposely omit a legal career spanning ten years with two major firms? For a good reason. A reason that is still disturbingly vague.

The Settlement

In November, 1998 the disgust many Americans directed at the serial deception of Philip Morris and other cigarette-peddlers culminated with the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement. It was signed by Philip Morris, and representatives of all 50 states. The provisions required Philip Morris to compensate states for the cost of providing health care for persons with smoking-related illnesses.

A critical component of the Agreement would eventually make available to the public hundreds of millions of privileged documents. The documents have exposed the decision-making process the tobacco companies and their attorneys followed to defend themselves throughout decades of deceit.

The University of California at San Francisco is home to The Legacy Tobacco Documents Library (LTDL). According to its website:

"LTDL holdings updated as of Sunday, September 28, 2008. It contains 51,440,321 pages in 9,925,621 documents."

Congresswoman Gillibrand has a starring role in the LTDL archives. Using her maiden name "Rutnik" in the search engine, New Yorkers will discover an astounding 1,175 documents that include her advocacy on behalf of Philip Morris and organized smoking. But 400 of those documents still remain privileged, and shield from public scrutiny the totality of Gillibrand's work.

Thank You For Smoking

Rep. Gillibrand's Philip Morris representation includes:

* An August 31, 1995 Davis, Polk & Wardell accounting document that includes Gillibrand as one of 63 employees paid "with regard to legal advice concerning civil lawsuits that have been filed making claims relating to alleged injuries from cigarette smoking, nicotine addiction, second hand smoke . . . " She earned $305.00 per hour. The document can be viewed here.

I wonder what mothers across the Capital District will think about Kirsten Gillibrand earning $305.00 an hour on behalf of Philip Morris. We're not talking about a teacher looking the other way at Emma Willard if a few girls sneak a smoke behind the bleachers. She was doing serious legal work for one of the most reviled corporations of the 1990's. Reviled because of her Democratic party.

* In preparation to defend Philip Morris, Rep. Gillibrand helped manage and interview two Dr. Strangeloves of Big Tobacco: Dr. Wolf Reininghaus and Dr. Max Hausermann.

Reininghaus and Hausermann were employed by Philip Morris. Reininghaus at a highly secretive German "research facility" called INBIFO, and Hauserman as a vice president where he was charged with supervising all 600 of the corporation's scientists in the 1980's. Both were, in fact, responsible for justifying the "science" behind the lies Philip Morris told the public.

According to the March 20, 1996 edition of ABC News Primetime Live:

"Philip Morris needed INBIFO because there were certain research projects that, clearly, the company did not want to have done on United States soil. These projects involved cancer-producing agents. These projects involved ways to manipulate components of cigarette smoke."

Documents show Gillibrand traveled to Germany at least four times. On January 31, 1996 Gillibrand personally interviewed Dr. Reininghaus and on September 5, 1997 she furnished a Philip Morris Associate General Counsel with a memoranda summarizing two previous interviews with Dr. Hausermann. We'll likely never know what Gillibrand said to Reininghaus and Hausermann, but she certainly wasn't in contact with them to provide whistleblower protection counsel.

The Campaign Money Trail

Rep. Gillibrand's Big Tobacco-enabling efforts did not go unrewarded by her former employers. She has been showered with their campaign contributions.

According to the website Open Secrets, Davis, Polk & Wardell contributed $48,300 to Gillibrand during her 2006 race for Congress against incumbent John Sweeney. It was the third highest contribution she received.

Then-candidate Gillibrand's top contributor in 2006 was Boies, Schiller & Flexner at $117,810. The Boies is David Boies of Bush v. Gore recount fame. Boies and his firm have been described by the National Law Journal as “unafraid to venture into controversial” and “high risk” matters.

During the 1990's Philip Morris was the very definition of a "high risk" legal matter. The corporation retained Boies to help contain its ever-escalating public relations nightmare. And Kirsten Gillibrand was there nearly every step of the way cashing paychecks for a paper trail that looks like a protection racket.

Who Are You?

Congresswoman Gillibrand has enjoyed a comfortable first term, with local media outlets fawning over her. Several reporters and editors may as well be on her payroll because of their inability to hide their unprofessional bias.

But what is troubling about Rep. Gillibrand since she first entered public life are recurring questions: Is she truly who she purports to be as either a 2006 candidate or incumbent Member of Congress? Or is she a phony?

No one pretends ten years of a professional life doesn't exist if there is nothing deeply embarrassing or shameful to hide. Gillibrand clearly wants no discussion of her ensnarement by Big Tobacco, which is understandable. She helped defend a fraud. It's a stain not easily forgotten, or erased.

And stay tuned.