With the current PR crisis facing Toyota, their potential troubles in Washington only add insult to injury. Thankfully for them they have friends in high places, including Senators and Congressmen who not only represent thousands of Toyota workers, but have actually lobbied to lure Toyota to their states.
Some of these lawmakers also happen to be part of the groups currently investigating the carmaker, and one company official is even a former employee of the federal agency that is set to conduct investigations.
Toyota has developed many connections as they worked through the years to build goodwill with regard to their American audience, but the question remains; will those connections payoff?
Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-WV, has personal ties to the Toyoda family that run back to the 1960’s, and often boasts about his role in lobbying Toyota to establish a plant in his home state. His committee is set to investigate as to whether the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration acted with enough aggression toward Toyota. He sees no reason to step aside from his committee’s investigation.
Rep. Jane Harman, D-CA, serves on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which will be investigating the recalls. Not only are Toyota’s U.S. operations based in her district, but as of their most recent financial disclosure report her and her husband owned at least $115,000 in Toyota stock. The company founded by her husband Sydney sells vehicle audio and entertainment systems to Toyota, and the two companies have also teamed in the past on a charitable education project.
Sen. Rockefeller and Rep. Harman are not the only lawmakers who represent those with interests in Toyota. Kentucky, Missouri, Texas, Mississippi, Michigan, and Indiana also all have factories in their states. The company says that it employs nearly 36,000 people in the U.S. and indirectly employs about 166,000 through its dealer and supplier networks.
Toyota however still has a ways to go in order to garner the wholesale affection of those in congress, as Democrats stand in criticism on the company’s practice of using non-union shops, and many hint at an unfair competitive advantage as the result of Japanese trade policies, at the expense of the American manufacturers.
That being said, Toyota has worked tremendously to bring itself into America”s car culture, with Rusty Wallace announcing that his NASCAR team will be racing Toyota vehicles for the 2010 season, and its lobbying team commands respect.
Christopher Tinto, who worked for several years in the NHTSA”s Office of Defects Investigation and in its Office of Vehicle Safety Standards, is the company”s main liaison to the federal government. Lobbyist Josephine Cooper is a former EPA employee and former congressional aide to Dick Cheney, Tom Lehner served as an aide to five senators and served as the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee”s treasurer, and Robert Chiappetta was a delegate for President Obama at the 2008 Virginia Democratic Party Convention. The company has also retained the services of the well-connected, bipartisan lobbying and public affairs firm Quinn Gillespie & Associates and a Democratic public affairs-lobbying firm to work on crisis management.
There are a significant number of other company officials with strong U.S. political ties that stretch back to the Clinton administration, including top-executive Tom Stricker, who serves on the EPA”s Clea Air Act Advisory Committee, and former executive Thomas Zawacki serves as commissioner of Kentucky”s Vehicle Regulation Department.
Despite all of its political connections, Toyota has no PAC as does Ford and GM, to dole out campaign contributions.
– By: Stephen Calogera