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Poor Toyota. Because of an explosion of deadly safety glitches in its cars, the Japanese auto giant is getting pounded by the media, scorched by public opinion, sued by customers, investigated by numerous regulators, and grilled by congressional committees.
Right about now, the beleaguered, multi-billion dollar corporation is probably wishing it had some friends in high places. But, wait – it does! In fact, Toyota has many well-placed friends in Washington.
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Start with lobbyists. Over the years, Toyota has steadily built up a stout lobbying force in our Capitol City, far surpassing the presence of other foreign automakers. Last year, it had 31 of these influence peddlers on its payroll, including eight former congressional and agency staffers.
Also, former officials and engineers from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have switched hats and are now in the employ of Toyota. Yes, NHTSA is the outfit that was supposed to be regulating the car maker to protect the driving public from exactly the kind of safety defects that have led to hundreds of Toyota crashes and the recall of some eight million cars.
Then there are various lawmakers who have substantial financial connections to the manufacturer, including two House members who are on the committees presently probing Toyota. California Democrat Jane Harman holds Toyota stock worth up to $315,000. Across the aisle, California Republican Darrell Issa got rich making auto alarms that his company sold to – guess who? – Toyota, as well as other car makers.
This is Jim Hightower saying… Toyota can’t expect to get a free pass because it has these friends in high places, but it’s now enjoyed years of kid-glove regulatory treatment, and its lobbyists are already pushing for the gentlest of punishments for this reckless corporate scoundrel.
“In Congress, Connections to Toyota,” New York Times, February 23, 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/23/business/23donate.html