Toyota Woes Highlight Lobbyists, Lawmakers Link
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
More apologies today from Toyotas president and CEO. Yesterday, it was the head of Toyota, U.S.A. Both men appeared on Capitol Hill to face tough questions from members of Congress.
But there's a problem, says senior news analyst Daniel Schorr. Many of the politicians now accepting Toyotas apologies have also, for years, been accepting its money.
DANIEL SCHORR: For at least 10 years, long before the Supreme Court opened the spigot on foreign political contributions, Toyota was shoveling out money to members of Congress as part of a quiet but intense lobbying operation. This it could do by funneling money through political action committees representing its American dealers and operations. Thus, as the Washington Post has documented, more then 40 percent of the 125 members of Congress, currently investigating Toyota, have received campaign donations from the company. More money went through state party organizations. Toyota also contributed to charities with ties to members of Congress.
Toyota Motor North America, spent $45,000 on a dinner honoring Senator John Rockefeller, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. Senator Rockefeller plans an investigative hearing on March 2nd. There is no sign that he will recuse himself. The West Virginia lawmaker claims credit for inducing Toyota to put a plant in his state. On the House side, Jane Harman of California, whose husband sells radio equipment to Toyota, has recused herself from the investigation.
What did Toyota hope to gain from its friendly investment in the American Congress? According to a document obtained by the Detroit News, Yoshimi Inaba, Toyotas North American president, boasted in 2009 that he had negotiated an agreement with auto-safety regulators that saved more than $100 million by preventing a large scale recall of some of the Toyota models in 2007. No defect found, wrote Inaba.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration had dealt lightly with the giant company that has such a big investment in the United States and its officials. Since no defect found a year ago, plenty of possible defects have been found. And now, Toyota, the company and the man, are vying with Tiger Woods in apologies. Maybe an apology is also due from the members and staffers in Congress and the Safety Administration that dealt so lightly with a company whose motto seemed to be: Whats good for Toyota is good for the country.
This is Daniel Schorr.
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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
This is NPR.