Skip to comments.Detroit Rock City (Mrs. Dingell: "I didn't know")
Posted on 04/08/2002 6:56:17 PM PDT by Jean S
Although a batch of documents recently released by the Bush Energy Department was supposed to embarrass Republicans, it also revealed an interesting nugget about a powerful Democrat, Debbie Dingell, wife of Rep. John Dingell (Mich.).
Mrs. Dingell, who gave HOHholy hell a few years ago for referring to her in print as a "lobbyist" for General Motors, has always insisted that she merely runs the foundation that takes care of the auto giant's philanthropic activities. These days, Dingell says, she's in charge of "worldwide community relations" for the company.
So you can imagine HOH's surprise upon noticing that Dingell turned up on Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham's April 4, 2001, schedule, at a meeting in Washington with GMPresident Richard Wagoner about corporate average fuel economy standards. The meeting came at a time when the Bush folks were crafting their energy plan, and General Motors is a sworn enemy of any effort to increase CAFE standards.
"It was a routine business meeting,"Dingell told HOHin a telephone interview on Friday. "I was accompanying the boss."
Dingell explained that GM had lost the head of its Washington office, Andrew Card, who had become White House chief of staff. So she accompanied Wagoner to the meeting last spring because new D.C. boss Kenneth W. Cole had not yet been hired.
But isn't Dingell's attendance at the meeting curious given her stance that she's not a lobbyist? "I don't register as a lobbyist,"Dingell said, choosing her words carefully. "I don't do day-to-day lobbying. I do strategy."
She added later, "I'm a senior public affairs executive who avoids lobbying. My job is not to communicate with government officials about General Motors' positions."
Then why did she communicate with the Energy secretary about a major piece of legislation before Congress? "I accompanied my boss, which all public affairs executives do, for a 'state of the industry' discussion," she said, although Abraham's schedule lists the topic only as "CAFE."
"Rick was the one who was talking to the secretary," she added. "Look, I walk a thin line."
So she just sat there during the meeting? "Yeah, I did,"said Dingell.
Interestingly enough, Abraham's schedule shows that Dingell's husband met with the secretary just three hours before the GMchat on April 4, 2001. "I have no idea what he did,"Dingell said of her husband, who serves as ranking member on the Energy and Commerce Committee. "I didn't know it."
Dingell's official titles are vice chairman of the General Motors Foundation and executive director of the Community Impact Team and Public Affairs. She noted that she has passed on several opportunities, including when Card left the GMoffice, to increase her government affairs role at the company.
Dingell said she made a "conscious decision" to turn down those offers because of the perception issue stemming from her husband's clout in Congress. "I have been glass-ceilinged because of my husband," she said.
Mrs. Dingell falls into the latter category.
She doesn't register as a lobyist because she isn't really one. G.M. bribes her husband by bribing her. They just pay money through her to influence her husband.
They took her along to the meeting just to show the White House that when Dingell had talked to them 3 hours earlier he had been speaking with GM's tongue.