One evening this past October, I went prospecting for natural-gas man Trevor Rees-Jones at the posh Hilton Anatole in Dallas. He was there to receive the Robert S. Folsom Leadership Award, a philanthropic prize that in recent years has gone to the likes of Laura Bush and former Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman. Unlike these prominent Texans, Rees-Jones is not widely known outside his hometown. If the name sounds familiar, it's probably because he shares it with the British bodyguard who survived Princess Diana's fatal car crash. The Trevor Rees-Jones that I came to see is the billionaire founder of Dallas-based Chief Oil & Gas and perhaps the fastest-rising star in Republican big-money circles.
Photo: Scott Womack
The dinner's PR people had promised me tickets, then changed their minds and, with apologies, yanked them. So I called up my sister, a Dallas debutante of recent vintage, to help me crash the thing. As we strolled through the Hilton's cave-like lobby in cocktail attire, we saw a troop of young Boy Scouts milling about. One of them inquired about our destination and then helpfully directed us to the event's open bar. An Eagle Scout himself, Rees-Jones has donated millions of dollars to scouting causes.
A few days earlier, Rees-Jones' high school acquaintance, the renowned GOP bundler Jim Francis, had thrown him a party with guests that included George W. Bush. Now Francis' broad-shouldered son, Jim Jr., was holding forth in the lobby about a Lenin statue that once stood outside his burger joint. (Inscription: "America Won.") It was eventually sold on eBay to some guy in Arkansas. "Perfect!" someone exclaimed. "That's where it should be!"
We all laughed at the Clintons' expense. I then asked Francis if he thought Rees-Jones would go all in on the 2012 presidential race. "Oh, yeah!" he gushed before realizing he had no idea who I was. "Uh, I think a lot of the big political backers are waiting to see what happens," he added vaguely. "I think it will be a real interesting year."
I'd been trying to speak with Rees-Jones for more than a month. I'd even shown up at Chief's headquarters, but nobody would see me. Recognizing the CEO by his ruddy complexion and Regis Philbin hairstyle, I approached the bar where he stood flanked by a towering bodyguard with a Band-Aid on his neck. With slight trepidation, I introduced myself, asking if we might arrange a time to talk. His face reddened. "I've been advised of your agenda, so I don't think that's gonna be possible," Rees-Jones snapped in a West Texas drawl that belied his Ivy League education. His sideman moved closer and my sister and I turned heel, working our way past a tightening cordon of security.
A pity, for had we stuck around, we could have caught Karl Rove taking the stage beside a large model pump jack and oil derrick to do some prospecting of his own. Rees-Jones "is what servant leadership is all about," Rove said, throwing a bone to the Christians in attendance, though a society blogger covering the event emphasized his saltier extolments: George W. hadn't made it to the dinner, Rove explained, because he was angry that Rees-Jones always beats him when they go mountain biking together. "He rides the president's sorry ass into the ground every time."
"I get speakers fees from time to time, but not very much," Mitt Romney said last week of his six-figure public speaking income. His foes seized on the gaffe as further evidence of Romney being out of touch with average Americans, but there's another reason for him to downplay the payments, which totaled to $374,000 for nine speeches in 2010—an average of $41,592 per appearance. (Newt Gingrich reported receiving a total of $21,625 in speaking fees and Rick Santorum reported none.) The high payments raise questions about what the groups who hired these pols might expect in return. Here's a rundown of speeches Romney and Gingrich have disclosed.
Quest Educational Foundation (Naples, Florida)
An educational nonprofit that offers tutoring and test-prep services, Quest also has a political side. Its website claims affiliations to libertarian groups such as the Cato Institute, Ludwig Von Mises Institute, and Ayn Rand Institute. Its chairman, C.E. Dekko Jr., is an executive with Group Dekko, a multinational manufacturing company that makes everything from truck parts to medical devices. Over the years he has donated $167,297 to political candidates and parties, almost all of it to Libertarians and Republicans.
Riverside Theatre (Vero Beach, Florida)
While traveling the country to hawk his book in 2010, Romney typically spoke to crowds for free. But he was so popular in conservative, affluent Vero Beach that the local theater decided to charge for tickets and give Romney a cut. Happy to play along, Mayor Kevin Sawnick gave Romney a key to the city.
Claremont McKenna College (Claremont, California)
About two weeks earlier, Romney had spoken to students at Emory University for free. But he was brought to Claremont McKenna through the university's Pacesetters Fellowship Program, which "attracts leaders in business, academia, and public affairs" by giving them money.
Get Motivated Seminars (via satellite from Boston)
The Weekly Standard calls Get Motivated "a quasi-Christian self-help operation" in which "the company makes money both from ticket sales and by letting pitchmen hawk personal improvement and get-rich-quick products during the interludes between the star speakers"—including the likes of Zig Ziglar, Brett Favre, and Sarah Palin.
HP Healthcare Services (Dallas)
This lucrative consulting arm of the HP computer empire, which offers "a comprehensive digital health solution" to hospitals and medical providers, may have been attracted to Romney for his role in creating state-run healthcare in Massachusetts.
Clark Consulting (Half Moon Bay, California)
This boutique consulting firm advises large financial institutions about life insurance programs—and fights on their behalf in Washington. Last year, Clark Consulting asked (PDF) financial regulators responsible for implementing the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reforms (the "Volcker Rule"), to carve out an exemption for bank-owned life insurance arrangements. In October, the exemption was granted (PDF). Since 2002, the company's PAC has spent more than $470,000.
GoldenTree Asset Management (New York City)
This Wall Street investment firm manages $13.5 billion, much of it in hedge funds. Since 2008, founder Steven Tananbaum has donated $77,398 to candidates, committees, and PACs, mostly Republican.
International Franchise Association (Las Vegas)
"Mitt Romney’s broad experience in business, government and politics will provide critical insight for IFA members as we continue to position our companies for growth in a challenging financial climate," IFA Chairman Ken Walker said in announcing that Romney would keynote the IFA's 51st annual convention. The IFA promotes the global spread of chain stores like Burger King and Pizza Hut.
Barclays Bank (Washington, DC)
Barclays lobbyist Patrick J. Durkin is Romney's most active bundler on K Street, raising $245,825 on his behalf last quarter. The world's fifth-largest corporation by assets, London-based Barclays spent $2.8 million on DC lobbyists last year.
John Locke Foundation (Raleigh, North Carolina)
Gingrich keynoted the foundation's 20th anniversary event, waxing poetic about the fall of communism in Eastern Europe. The board of the John Locke Foundation includes Art Pope, the wholesaling baron who has essentially purchased North Carolina's government.
American Family Association
Gingrich's financial disclosures, which note three separate $2,000 payments, don't specify precisely how Gingrich earned the money from this anti-gay Christian group, but his tax return suggests that at least some portion was compensation for public speaking. The AFA, which the Southern Poverty Law Center considers a "hate group," was also behind Texas Gov. Rick Perry's prayer festival in Houston.
On Thursday, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, working with police in New Zealand, arrested the leaders of the popular file sharing service MegaUpload.com and scrubbed the site from the internet, alleging that it supports widespread copyright infringement. Coming just a day after the internet's campaign against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), the raid was perceived by many netizens as a declaration of war.
Within minutes of the announcement, Twitter accounts associated with Anonymous, the shadowy hacker collective, announced #OpMegaUpload, a massive retaliation against government and entertainment industry websites. Just a few hours later, swarms of computers had brought down the homepages of the Motion Picture Association of America, the Recording Industry Association of America, Universal Music, the US Copyright Service, the US Department of Justice, and last, but not least, the FBI. The main Anonymous Twitter account claimed that it was "the largest attack ever by Anonymous" with more than 5,600 people involved.
As with past Anonymous actions, much of the organizing for the attacks occurred in chat rooms hosted on an arcane platform known as Internet Relay Chat, or IRC, which allows users to conceal their identities. On an IRC server for AnonOps, an Anonymous splinter group, some 1,700 people in an #OpMegaUpload chat room yesterday evening were coordinating "distributed denial of service" (DDoS, or "dosing") attacks, which direct a flood of traffic to a website and crash it by overwhelming its servers. The preferred tool for dosing is the whimsically named Low Orbit Ion Cannon (LOIC) and is relatively easy to use. Conversations in the chat room ranged from identifying new targets for the LOIC to words of precaution:
As president of the Pacific Exchange in the late 1990s, Warren Langley oversaw the West Coast's biggest financial center, a trading floor where some 17 million shares of stock changed hands daily. Though he served at the pleasure of traders and investment banks such as Morgan Stanley, he is no longer interested in pleasing them. Yesterday, he stood on a hillside in San Francisco's Financial District in front Morgan Stanley's and Goldman Sachs' regional headquarters to declare his support for Occupy Wall Street West, a coalition of 50 groups planning a slew of anti-bank protests Friday.
"From the inside, I watched Goldman Sachs, the big banks, the hedge funds bet our money and then get bailed out when they lost," said Langley, surrounded by protesters holding images of a devious-looking Mr. Moneybags (Monopoly) character. "I saw corporations and the 1 percent buy our congressmen and senators and then pay no taxes, get subsidies, and move jobs overseas. This is our last chance to level the playing field and let you and our kids and grandkids have the opportunities that I started with."
Langley, 69, began working in finance in the 1980s, rising to become CEO of Hull Trading Company, a $500 million proprietary trading firm active in stock options and derivatives. The job often involved pressuring the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to loosen financial regulations. "I was just trying to push the boundaries of things that would help me make profits," he confesses. "I didn't perceive the risk to the economy, and I think that is the part that really changed for me."
For some CEOs, the easiest way to get rich is to quit.
Increasingly, corporations offer their chief executives fantastically generous severance packages—retirement bonuses, extended stock options, and pensions that can add up to $100 million or more. Call 'em platinum parachutes. These deals are supposed to benefit shareholders by encouraging CEOs to take a long-term view of corporate profits, but some compensation experts have their doubts. "Too many golden parachutes and too many retirement packages are of a size that clearly seems only in the interest of the departing executive," says a new report by GMI, a corporate governance consultancy.
By way of example, the report singles out 21 CEOs whose severance packages are worth more than the median US earner would make in 49 lifetimes. In the case of GE's John Welch Jr., the figure would be 203 lifetimes. But you could still argue that the most outrageous example is Viacom's Thomas Freston, who put in just one year of work for his $100-million-plus sendoff.
GMI, "Largest Severance Packages of the Millennium"