Michael Baroody, who made his living lobbying against the commission of consumer product safety, has been nominated by President Bush to head the Consumer Product Safety Commission. The coverage has been excellent, if a bit repetitious:fox guarding henhouse, fox guarding henhouse, fox guarding henhouse - the image repeated ad nauseum, and reasonably so.
(Click on any of the highlighted words above and you'll find a different anti-Baroody recommendation: keeping cigarettes from the horrors of fire-safeness, fighting for all-terrain vehicles' right to flip over and kill people, protecting parents from the dangerous knowledge that the cribs and strollers they just bought had been recalled, making the world safe for asbestos, heroically keeping the National Highway and Transportation Safety Board in the dark about accident data on defective tires, keeping government out of the climate-change-prevention biz, and keeping the feds from "silencing commercial speech without authority"—the commercial speech in question being tobacco billboards near schools.)
That's our Michael, as anyone reading a newspaper these days knows.
What they haven't told you yet is about the clan that nurtured him—the first family of right-wing boodle, hustle, and scam. We here at The Big Con don't believe in guilt by association. We do, however, believe in hoary maxims like "the apple doesn't fall far from the tree." And: "It takes a village to raise a child."
Michael's father, William J. Baroody Sr., the son of an immigrant stonecutter from New Hampshire, I relate in my book on the rise of the conservative movement , "was cagey, Machiavellian, hungry—a conservative empire builder": he turned a humble business lobby against wartime price controls, the American Enterprise Association, into a full-service conservative "think tank," the American Enterprise Institute. What a hustler he was! He told reporters, "I really can't say whether I am a liberal or a conservative." He put up pictures of himself with Hubert Humphrey up on his office walls; thus was AEI's status as "non-partisan," suitable for tax-deductible donations, vouchsafed.
He also, when it came time for his man Barry Goldwater to run for president, made of himself a sort of money launderer.
In early 1965, a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch studied the expenses of the American Enterprise Institute for the previous, presidential, year. He found that the budget of AEI had suddenly and inexplicably grown 22 percent. Baroody Sr. spent the year on "paid leave"—indeed, earning a more than 10 percent raise from the employer he did not work for that year; instead, he occupied the office next to Goldwater's at campaign headquarters, running his research operations, with several AEI employees on staff beside him. The AEI offices might have mostly been empty. Nonetheless, the outfit's biggest budget item for 1964 was, fishily, "overhead." Plainly, people were sluicing money to the Goldwater campaign through AEI as contributions to a tax-exempt "educational" institution. "Have you during the year participated in, or intervened in (including the publishing or distributing of statements) any political campaign on behalf of any candidate for public office?" AEI answered, "No."
On Tax Day, 1965, The Washington Post ran an article on muckraking congressman Wright Patman's consternation that 599 of the nonprofit foundations his Small Business Committee was investigating had voluntarily turned over their contribution lists. Only the 600th—AEI—was refusing. What was Baroody afraid of? The world would never know; the matter dropped out of the news; apparently the trail went cold; Baroody trails often do.
The clan would not appear again in the Post until late in 1969, when a "William Baroody" appeared defending his role in a fishy arrangement in which he apparently worked simultaneously for the Pentagon and the hawkish chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, John Stennis, lobbying Congress against Pentagon budget cuts, even though the Armed Services Committee is supposed to, of course, exercise independent oversight over the Pentagon, not coordinate with it on policy. "It's perfectly legitimate," Baroody assured the Post denying charges he'd written speeches for conservative Senators propounding the Pentagon line.
This Baroody, I believe—the September 5, 1969 Post article doesn't specify—is William Jr., the AEI founder's son, who took over AEI in 1977. He would, indeed, go on to ghostwrite speeches for conservative senators propounding an outside organization's line—that their fellow senators should not vote to impeach Richard Nixon—but I'm getting ahead of myself...
This Baroody had a brother named Joe. And what a doozy was Joe. He took dad's embryonic money laundering efforts...and went pro.
Here's how the late J. Anthony Lukas put it in the greatest early book on Watergate ("Hunt/Liddy Project #1"? That was the burglary of the office of Vietnam War whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist):
...Hunt/Liddy Project #1 needed funds. Until then, the White House agents had traveled on government vouchers.... 'It was felt there shouldn't be any way to trace the money that was used' - which meant cash. The week before Labor Day , Colson called Joseph Baroody, a Washington public-relations man. At Colson's virtual insistence, Baroody had been retained by Associated Milk Producers, Inc., a lobby eager to please the White House, and over fifteen months had been paid $40,000 for no visible services. Colon now said the White House had an urgent need for $5,000. Baroody got the cash - on Colson's instructions - delivered it to Krogh. In September Colson arranged for TAPE - one of the milk lobby trusts - to make an additional $5000 contribution to one of the recipient committees - People United for Good Government."
(You can't make this stuff up.)
Then, he told the committee treasurer to write a $5,000 check to Baroody—completing a neat little money-'washing' operation.
This Baroody makes neat little cameo appearances from time to time on the Watergate hearings. Click here to read Nixon Oval Office aide Alexander Butterfield describing how Baroody handled a mysterious $22,000 disbursement in April of 1972, "a sort of Haldeman reserve fund, as a sort of contingency fund..."
Here, Haldeman, Ehrlichman, and Nixon puzzle in April of 1973 over how they will stonewall congressional investigators what turned out to be the destination for that particular chunk of secret cash: one of their phony Astroturf "Tell It To Hanoi" ad campaigns designed to make it look like ordinary citizens were up in arms (they weren't) over Vietnam Veterans Against the War. They refer, confusedly, to the embarrassment of Baroodys mucking up the Nixonist demimonde:
EHRLICHMAN: Bill or another Baroody?"
HALDEMAN: No, Sam or Charlie or something.
HALDEMAN: It's not Edgar or somebody. One of the others.
(I honestly have no idea who Edgar, Charlie, or Sam Baroody are. I do, however, know of a Judith Rainey Baroody. She is director of strategic planning and extern affairs for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor at the State Department. I'm sure she's naught but a disinterested, honest, progressive-minded civil servant.)
A month before that, the President is discussing with John Dean their "project to take the offensive" on the Watergate investigation.,
PRESIDENT: Did you kick a few butts around?
DEAN: Uh, I have all of the information that we have finished—that we've collected. There is some there, and, uh, I've turned it over to Baroody. Baroody is having a speech drafted for Barry Goldwater.
The subject of the speech is how the Democrats did Nixon worse than Nixon ever did the Democrats. The President goes on to fume about all the "hanky-panky" that must have been involved in the $34 million small contributors gave to George McGovern. Bill Baroody Jr. went on to direct one of the most shameful deployments of religion in politics until Jerry Falwell met Richard Viguerie: the hydra-headed public relations juggernaut of Rev. Sun Myung Moon and Rabbi Baruch Korff (this particular circus clown enjoyed a bout of publicity in 1995—"At my death bed I can afford to speak the truth"—when he revealed that Diane Sawyer was Deep Throat ), who joined together to rally against the Watergate investigations as a liberal plot against the plain people until the August day in 1974 when the Nixon's helicopter lifted off for San Clemente and his final ignominy.
So, yes, I'm sure William Sr.'s youngest son and Bill Jr. and Joseph's brother—Michael Baroody—imbided nothing but an atmosphere of wholesome, selfless service to the public interest along with his mother's milk; and I'm sure all this says nothing, nothing at all, about the moral level of a movement that thrusts the scion of a clan of mountebanks into the highest councils of our nation, to guard the safety of America's consumer products like a lioness guards her cubs; and that the hens, charged to the care of Baroody, will do just fine.
Or, maybe I'm wrong. Only time—or, God willing, a confirmation hearing for Mike Baroody straight out of Dante's Inferno—will tell.