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As their top lobbyist, Andrew H. Card Jr. led a $25 million lobbying campaign on behalf of the “Big Three” U.S. automakers, often fighting against higher environmental standards.

Now, as chief of staff to President George W. Bush, Card may be in a position to steer U.S. policy favorably for his former employers, who contributed generously to Bush’s campaign and inaugural committees.

The Center for Public Integrity’s analysis of more than 600 pages of lobbying records shows that groups associated with Card, including the American Automobile Manufacturers Association, the Air Quality Standards Coalition and General Motors Corp., spent almost $25 million in the last five years lobbying the federal government. And when either the American Automobile Manufacturers Association or General Motors lobbied for environmental or energy policies, records indicate that Card was usually involved.

Card will wield considerable power in the Bush administration. “The chief of staff plays a central role in the White House,” said Terry Sullivan, who recently organized a “Forum on the Role of the White House Chief of Staff” for the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University. “He organizes all confluent forces around the president and extends the president’s reach.” The chief of staff does act as a policy adviser to the president, according to Sullivan, but “a good chief of staff will tend to submerge his own policy interests.”

Card is the only chief of staff in the last 20 years to move directly from lobbying to the White House, and he is the highest ranking auto executive to serve in government since Ford Motor Co.‘s Robert McNamara became John F. Kennedy’s defense secretary in 1961.

More than two decades ago, Card earned a reputation for fighting corruption as a member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, where he established a commission to investigate fraud in construction at the University of Massachusetts.

After serving in both the Reagan and Bush administrations, Card joined President George H.W. Bush’s Cabinet in 1992, replacing Samuel K. Skinner as secretary of transportation. After a one-year stint in that post, he quickly took advantage of the government-corporate revolving door to become the chief lobbyist for the automobile industry.

Card represented the interests of Ford, Chrysler and General Motors as president and CEO of the American Automobile Manufacturers Association from 1993 to 1998. Records analyzed by the Center show that the AAMA spent $15,099,317 at the federal level on lobbying expenses from 1996 to 1998, the last three years of Card’s tenure.

Coalition sought to block pollution regs

In 1997, the AAMA joined more than 600 business and industry interests, including the National Association of Manufacturers and the American Petroleum Institute, to form the Air Quality Standards Coalition. The coalition sought to block increased Environmental Protection Agency air pollution regulations for low-level ozone and fine particulate matter. While Card did not lobby directly for the Air Quality Standards Coalition, he did serve as co-chair and spokesman for the group. From 1997 to June of 2000, the coalition spent approximately $600,000 on federal lobbying.

The AAMA dissolved in 1998 because of the Chrysler merger with Daimler Benz, and Card immediately joined former AAMA patron General Motors as vice president of governmental relations. During Card’s two-year stint at GM, the company spent $9,140,000 lobbying the federal government.

As chief lobbyist for AAMA and later for GM, Card represented the auto industry on numerous fronts, ranging from bankruptcy laws to clean air standards to trade issues, but he spent much of his time lobbying environmental or energy policy. Reports filed by lobbying organizations are required to indicate the legislation or issues each lobbyist worked on in a given reporting period.

The forms are organized by three-letter codes indicating a certain “issue area,” such as “labor” or “education” or “budget,” and list the specific legislation and lobbyists who worked in that area. An organization like the AAMA or GM may lobby in up to 20 different issue areas in one six-month reporting period.

Lobbying reports analyzed by the Center show that Card, as the chief lobbyist for the AAMA, lobbied in 60 percent of the AAMA’s issue areas in general and in 80 percent of issue areas that concerned environmental or energy policies. Half of Card’s workload involved legislation or policies relating to environmental or energy issues.

After moving to GM, Card lobbied in 89 percent of the company’s issue areas and in 100 percent of environmental or energy-related issue areas. Here again, nearly half of Card’s issue specialties concerned environmental or energy issues. While Card lobbied on a wide range of issues for AAMA and GM, the records show that whenever these two groups had an interest in environmental or energy legislation, Card was involved more than 90 percent of the time.

Opposed agreement targeting global warming

As an AAMA lobbyist, Card opposed the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement targeting global warming, which called for a 7 percent reduction in U.S. emissions by 2008. Card predicted that the agreement would “harm the U.S. economy and do little for the global environment,” and protested the lack of rules for less developed countries, saying that “U.S. negotiators have signed on to an agreement before fully understanding the competitive and economic implications.”

Card and the AAMA also fought against increased air pollution requirements within the U.S. In 1994, the Environmental Protection Agency approved stricter regional guidelines for 12 East Coast states, which would require automakers to sell some natural gas or electric cars to meet emissions limits within these states. The AAMA opposed this measure, even filing a lawsuit against New York and Massachusetts, and offered instead to produce cleaner, gasoline-powered cars for the entire country, claiming that this plan would reduce emissions by 70 percent nationwide. According to Card, the AAMA plan “would lead to cleaner air sooner and at a more affordable cost to consumers.”

Environmental groups were concerned that the AAMA proposal was merely a ploy to avoid tougher environmental standards. Even an analysis by the conservative Cato Institute found that the AAMA plan would not reduce emissions as much as the regional regulations and would allow “American automakers [to] benefit at the expense of American consumers.”

As co-chair of the Air Quality Standards Coalition, Card worked against new EPA regulations that would reduce smog and soot in urban areas. The Air Quality Standards Coalition claimed that increased pollution controls would result higher costs for industry, leading to layoffs and higher costs for consumers. Card helped wage the public relations war for the group, calling on Congress “to reverse this extremely harmful and unjustifiable [EPA] decision.”

Most recently, Card fought against increased Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency (CAFE) standards, which would increase minimum gas mileage requirements for new vehicles. The auto industry defended its opposition, citing public perceptions that smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles were less safe, and pointed out that larger sport utility vehicles and light trucks — both known for guzzling gas — are increasingly popular.

Bush, auto industry have similar agenda

Bush already enjoys the generous financial support of U.S. automakers, and he and the auto industry have a similar environmental agenda, with a shared opposition to the Kyoto Protocol and increased air pollution regulations.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, automobile manufacturers contributed more than $2 million to candidates for federal office and to political parties during the 2000 election cycle. The “Big Three” automakers were also the top three contributors. During the last two years, DaimlerChrysler gave a total of $597,769; Ford contributed $587,225; and Card’s General Motors donated $554,949. The next highest contributor was BMW of North America, giving a total of only $11,246.

Republicans received more than 70 percent of the automakers’ money, with $1,454,334 in hard and soft money contributions. George W. Bush received $122,100 from automakers, the most of any candidate and almost six times the $21,765 given to his opponent, Democrat Al Gore.

Automakers also joined in on the festivities at the Republican National Convention. General Motors gave $1 million to Philadelphia 2000, the convention’s host committee, and both GM and DaimlerChrysler sponsored several lavish receptions for various state delegations.

In addition, two of the “Big Three” gave a total of $300,000 to the Bush-Cheney 2001 Presidential Inaugural Committee. Janet Mullins Grissom, Ford’s vice president of Washington affairs, contributed $100,000. GM’s financing arm, the General Motors Acceptance Corporation, gave $100,000, and Deborah Dingell, president of the General Motors Foundation and wife of Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., also gave $100,000.

Auto industry colleagues express confidence

“Andy Card is an outstanding person, a man of high integrity, and he will do a good job. He distinguished himself in many areas at General Motors,” said Bill Noack, Card’s former colleague and a Washington spokesman for GM. The company recently held a reception for Card at the Kennedy Center to celebrate his promotion to chief of staff.

Environmentalists, however, are concerned that the former lobbyist is now so close to a president who is already receptive to the auto industry’s agenda.

“It’s another one for the oil and auto industry and still zero for the American public. The former General Motors chief Washington lobbyist has shown his true colors in working to undermine laws that would stop global warming, make our cars and trucks more fuel efficient, and keep our air cleaner,” said John Passacantando, the executive director of Greenpeace U.S.A.

Bush has already indicated his support for continued funding of the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles, a joint research effort between government and the auto industry that Card has pushed for the last five years.

The Big Three automakers have shared, on average, about $250 million per year in subsidies from the federal government in a 50-50 industry-government split of research costs. Still, automakers are no closer to reaching the programs goal — a production-ready, super fuel-efficient car that gets 80 miles to the gallon. Some Partnership officials have admitted that building such a car would nearly be impossible. Ralph Nader has called the program, which already has cost taxpayers almost $2 billion, “corporate welfare at its worst.” Environmentalists worry that the fuel-efficient prototypes will actually exacerbate air quality problems because they rely on diesel fuel instead of gasoline.

Overall, the auto industry is less optimistic that Card’s ascension will translate into access.

“It may mean we get a call returned, but he will probably go out of his way not to have any conflict. It probably won’t make a difference,” said Eron Shosteck of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the successor group to Card’s AAMA.

GM’s Noack agrees. “I don’t know if it will be good for GM. You’ve got to understand that as chief of staff, he will be focusing on a lot of issues,” Noack said. “If you know Andy Card, you know he’s straightforward and he will not give any special favors. It won’t be an issue.”

Passacantando isn’t convinced. “Card still has a long way to go to prove to the American people that he will represent them in the White House.”

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