Baroody Ends Bid to Run Consumer Agency

Posted May 23, 2007 at 6:38pm

After withdrawing his nomination to lead the Consumer Product Safety Commission on Wednesday, lobbyist Michael Baroody’s future is anything but certain. And it seems unlikely that the longtime chief lobbyist at the National Association of Manufacturers can simply turn to NAM for a job.

Baroody hasn’t been on the trade association’s payroll since January and was being eased out of the group, according to a spokesman.

Since he was nominated by President Bush in March, consumer advocacy and trial lawyer groups have battered Baroody. They called him unqualified and overly cozy with the industries he would be in charge of regulating. A turning point against Baroody came last week when it was revealed that NAM was providing him with a $150,000 severance package.

But a Baroody spokesman portrayed the severance package, which pro-consumer groups have been quick to characterize as an industry down-payment for having their man inside the government, as more complex.

Spokesman Hank Cox said Wednesday that since January, Baroody has been a “non-salaried employee” of NAM and the $150,000 was part of a severance package that was negotiated before the longtime NAM lobbyist had been nominated for the CPSC job, though Cox said Baroody had “an inkling” that he was being considered for the post as far back as November.

Even though Baroody’s title has remained executive vice president of the manufacturers lobbying group, Cox said Baroody was transitioning out of the association, which had come under new management in 2004 when former Michigan Gov. John Engler (R) took over from longtime head Jerry Jasinowski.

Baroody had been Jasinowski’s No. 2, Cox said, and when Engler arrived he installed “his own No. 2,” LeAnne Wilson, who is listed on NAM’s Web site as its chief operating officer. Wilson served in Engler’s administration in Michigan.

“For a while there, Mike Baroody was busily occupied on asbestos” legislation, Cox said. Then, as the asbestos matter was resolved, it became time for Baroody to move on. “He was looking around for another job,” Cox said. “In the meantime he still has an office, a title and benefits” at NAM.

Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen, said the revelation of the $150,000 severance payment from NAM, first reported by The New York Times, was a fatal blow, but she added that Baroody also may have had his own reasons for wanting to leave. “One of the things we had heard is that he didn’t get along well with Engler,” Claybrook said.

Cox said Baroody, who declined comment, does not yet know what he will do next.

In a statement, Engler called Baroody’s withdrawal “a sad day for consumers.” He added: “The unprincipled smear campaign waged against Mike, aided and abetted by unethical release of his financial records, was inexcusable. It prejudiced opinion before Mike had an opportunity to address this and other issues in a proper forum.”

Consumer advocates didn’t see it that way. They lobbied vigorously to thwart Baroody’s appointment. Although the coalition against Baroody did not buy advertisements, they spent hours of staff time on research and lobbying in a bid to defeat Baroody’s nomination, according to sources with the groups. Consumer advocates such as Public Citizen, Consumer Federation of America and Consumers Union issued reports about Baroody and NAM’s record on consumer issues and traipsed up to the Hill regularly to lobby Senators.

“We reached out to every member of the [Senate] Commerce, [Science and Transportation] Committee, Republicans and Democrats,” said Sally Greenberg of Consumers Union. Greenberg said although Republicans on the committee — which was tasked with his confirmation hearing scheduled for today — did not respond to the coalition’s overtures, Baroody nonetheless “did not seem to have a groundswell of support from Commerce Committee Republicans.”

Greenberg said consumer groups had not reacted to other CPSC nominees with such a force. They did not, for example, oppose the previous head of the agency, Hal Stratton, who departed in July 2006.

“This was a very difficult nomination because this was somebody who came from the regulated industries that are overseen by the CPSC,” she said. “He was championing the interests of the very industries that would be regulated by the CPSC, and I think that was troubling to a number of Senators.”

Baroody is a longtime GOP insider, whose father, William Baroody Sr., ran the American Enterprise Institute from 1954 through the 1970s.

Michael Baroody joined NAM in 1990, but he began his Washington career 20 years earlier as an aide to then-Nebraska Republican Sen. Roman Hruska.

Before joining NAM, Baroody also worked in the administration of two presidents — serving as director of public affairs and deputy assistant to Ronald Reagan, and as assistant secretary for policy in the Department of Labor under George H. W. Bush.

In 1993, Baroody left NAM for a yearlong stint as president of the GOP-oriented National Policy Forum, which was started with seed money from the Republican National Committee. He returned to NAM in 1994 and by 1999 had risen to become chief lobbyist amid what was reported at the time as an internal shakeup of the organization.

And before Engler took over as president of NAM, Baroody had been considered a top contender for the job.

Claybrook said that Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) were instrumental in championing the opposition.

A statement provided by Nelson’s office said the Senator was the first to place a hold on Baroody’s nomination. The statement added that Nelson “met privately with Baroody on Monday, giving him an opportunity to explain a severance package he received from the manufacturing group that represents many companies that would come before the commission. Nelson also requested that before the Thursday Commerce hearing that Baroody produce copies of the severance document and any amendments made after his nomination. Baroody said he would consider that request.”

Pam Gilbert, who was executive director of the CPSC during then-President Bill Clinton’s administration and who is now with Cuneo Gilbert & LaDuca, said Baroody’s withdrawal was a victory for consumer advocates.

“I have a great affection for the agency, and I felt all along that Baroody was the wrong person for the job,” she said.

“The National Association of Manufacturers represents the community of industries that is regulated by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and he has been involved himself in trying to weaken standards and weaken the authority of the CPSC.

“I think the consumer advocacy community did very well in educating Members of Congress about who this man was and why he the wrong person,” Gilbert added.

Greenberg stressed that the outrage at Baroody’s nomination was not personal. “He certainly has every right to work for NAM. He’s just not the right person to be at CPSC,” she said. “Maybe he’ll get an appointment at another agency.”

White House spokeswoman Emily Lawrimore said Baroody came to the conclusion to withdraw his nomination “on his own, after some Members of the Senate rushed to judgment. He didn’t think he could be confirmed.”

Lawrimore said she would not speculate about who the Bush administration would nominate for the post or whether the president would nominate Baroody for another position. She did say Bush did not lose confidence in his nominee.

“We believe he is a strong leader,” she said. “He is well-respected for his willingness to work with people, to listen to all sides. The president believed that Mr. Baroody was committed to protecting American consumers.”