Monday, July 23, 2007

Flashback: The “Protect Quaker” Hearings Begin in the House and Brascan Throws in the Cards. The CEO Successor Who Agreed with Everybody.

[More than 50 years of politics written for my kids and grandchildren].

“The idea is,” Speaker O’Neill explained to subcommittee chairman James Scheuer (D-N.Y,)…whose name I had wrong in the last piece, calling him mistakenly “John”—a multi-millionaire Lefty ex-real estate developer and lawyer--“not to pass the damned thing but to have hearings on the basic unfairness of a system where the Canadian government can veto any corporate takeover of one of their companies and we cannot—the object being that along the line you suggest that the committee will invite Brascan—you got that name, don’t you?—to testify which could result in that company cashing in the chips and dropping the tender offer. Got it?”

“Yeah,” said Scheur, “you know we can’t subpoena them. We can’t subpoena an out-of country--.”

“I know that. We are focusing the press treatment to Ottawa and Toronto and Montreal so they get the full flavor of it. Here’s a list of those who will testify in favor of the bill you so generously authored.”

Scheuer perused the list. “The bill I so generously—holy mackerel! Gene McCarthy is for my bill! He was an early hero of mine! I started in this business volunteering for him. Who’s this”—and he mentioned a Nader raider.

“He’s a Nader guy.”

“And the U. S. Chamber is testifying against it! Not surprising.”

They’re free market, I volunteered.

“But the NAM is on your side.”

That’s right.

“I gave you a list of labor guys who’ll testify,” O’Neill told Scheuer. “Be sure you contact them.”

Scheuer said, “Where are the blacks?”

Reverend Ed Riddick, assistant director of Operation PUSH, will be here, I said.

“PUSH? What’s that?” asked Scheuer.

“That’s Jesse Jackson’s outfit,” said O’Neill with a grimace. “Roeser, how did you get them?”

Never mind.

“Here’s an interesting note,” said Scheuer. Then to me: “I thought you said you were close to Jack Kemp.”

I am. We have two Fisher-Price plants in his district.

“He called up and wanted to testify to oppose the bill! Doesn’t he know it’s yours?”

He doesn’t. But he’d do this anyhow to show his independence: a real hot dog.

“Don’t go near him,” said O’Neill. “He’s a hot dog.”

“He really believes this stuff,” said Scheuer, a terminal-case cynic to whom nothing was on the level.

Right, I said. (True believer: There’s no better description of Kemp). The first thing he’ll do if he finds out is to call our CEO who knows what’s going on but wants deniability but who is also a good Republican and we’d probably be asked to pull the plug on the legislation. .

“He’d do it,” said Scheuer. “Either that or call Bob Novak who’s his good buddy. Steer clear of him. Geez, Tip, if word got out we’re doing this for Quaker Oats--.”

I’d be fired, I supplied.

“You? I’d be defeated!” said Scheuer.

Yeah but as a multi-millionaire you have something to fall back on. To Scheuer: Maybe you’d hire me for your Bronx real estate operation.

Scheuer: “No chance. You’re not Jewish.”

O’Neill: “Look at him; kinky hair, beak nose, the name Roeser. He could pass.”

Scheuer: “Not in my Bronx neighborhood.”

“Well,” growled O’Neill, getting worried, “let’s get this damn hearing over with so we can all get back to work.”


So the surreptitiously unlabeled Quaker Oats Protection bill called the “U. S. Investment Protection bill” was introduced and referred to committee and thenceforward to Scheuer’s subcommittee. I had hired John Adams & Associates, a Washington, D. C. p. r. outfit headed by a crisp Brit who had been Walter Cronkite’s chief writer on the CBS Evening News. He had an easy job; just focus on the Canadian press; do TV clips and radio actualities just for Canada. Every so often chairman Scheuer would mention a lot of foreign companies that were trying to take over U. S. companies. Adams’ TV crew waited anxiously until…as once every while…Scheuer would also mention Brascan in his litany. The films were processed swiftly in 1980-style technology and flashed to Canadian stations.

Not long into the hearings, we saw the clips from Toronto and Montreal and other Canadian points prominently mentioning the hearings and underscoring Brascan as possibly being an invitee to testify. And not long after that, Brascan tossed in the cards and moved away—the stock they dumped causing our price to decline…but who cared? The covert anti-takeover was a success…a weird collection of allies: two liberal Democrats, O’Neill and Scheuer (of the Bronx, a multi-termed House member, a polio victim who walked with a cane which he twirled with a flourish, who always cherished the thought that he could be the first Jewish mayor of New York), Bill Colby, former head of the CIA, Eugene McCarthy, PUSH, Ralph Nader’s assistant and strongly opposed by the U. S. Chamber.

Throughout the procedure, Geimer, a lawyer with Nelson & Harding kept pressuring me for more money. I had no idea why. No, I said, we had an agreement for a flat fee.

“Well, what about a success fee?”

I’ll see.

But the nagging got persistent. Clayton Yeutter, the lead partner of Nelson & Harding, was on leave as the U. S. trade representative under Reagan and the other partners were pressuring Geimer to hike the fee. My gut feeling was that since Geimer had spent so much time on one special project—the luring away of Arkady Shevshenko in 1978…the highest Soviet defector who left his post as under-secretary of the UN and who was virtually Geimer’s special project as a covert special agent for the CIA where he virtually baby-sat the alcoholic Shevshenko through a second wife and the job of writing his book “Breaking with Moscow”…he was in trouble with his civilian bosses.

We finally had it out at breakfast at the Madison.

I said: Bill, we negotiated a fee with Nelson & Harding and my immediate boss signed off on it. I don’t deny the possibility of a success fee but frankly I’m getting sick of being pressured by you after the contract was signed for more money. I’m rather sick of it! The project hasn’t been completed yet and all I hear from you is more money. It’s unprofessional; don’t you think?

“Well, I have to watch out for myself. Ever since we’ve known each other I have understood that if I don’t, you certainly won’t.”

I slammed down my coffee cup with such a clatter that others in the coffee shop turned their heads. This is what I told him:

Let me set you straight, my little panty-waist friend. I was canned by Maurice Stans. Before I left I got you a job in the White House as an assistant to Steve Hess…a top Nixon staffer…at a higher pay grade than I was earning! So don’t give me that whining that I abandoned you. I brought you out here with you were a patent attorney in Chicago…gave you a significant raise and placed you in the White House earning more than I did when I was canned…and earning more than I did when I went to the Peace Corps. From there you went to Donny Rumsfeld as an assistant so you’ve done all right. Rumsfeld doesn’t return my calls but he does yours. So stop that lachrymose feeling sorry for yourself. All kinds of other people on the OMBE staff had to find work on their own—not you. So don’t put on that crying towel face to me. It doesn’t wash.

He rejoined:

“Well, if you hadn’t got yourself fired we’d have had a chance to turn the thing around and get blacks into the Republican party.”

To which I responded: Yeah, I went out and got myself fired while I had three kids and another on the way. What a terrible thing to do to you, Willie Geimer. How could I? How inconsiderate of me! As far as blacks getting in the Republican party, I invented the doctrine of set-aides in construction, didn’t I? Do you see them flocking in, Geimer? Grow up. There’s a cultural as well as an economic reason why blacks in great numbers haven’t joined the Republican party. You know as well as I that Stans made a U turn on the program and embraced the Southern Strategy. He embraced it because he owes a huge debt to Strom Thurmond who blocked Reagan from getting the nomination and has called his due bill: no effective minority enterprise program. Frankly, I think you’d like to put me on a guilt trip. Well there’s no guilt trip because there’s no need for one, brother. Now I’ll pay for this breakfast and see you at the Capitol.


The next thing I knew my immediate boss…one with whom I had very little rapport…a lawyer, corporation secretary and on the board of directors…called me up and told me that he had received a private, confidential letter—handwritten—by a Mr. Geimer who said that he had delivered the entirety of a legislative package without the slightest assistance from me and that he was underpaid. Then Geimer did me a terrible injustice. He said I didn’t have any understanding of the legislation and that I was unprepared for this venture…that he was carrying the whole load including making the political contacts—a series of calumnies topped by backstabbing if there ever was a masterpiece. That did it with Geimer for me.

He’s crazy, I said and told him the legislation had been my idea and he was hired and paid well to come up with the specifics.

To my surprise, my boss, was unusually reasonable. Understanding treachery corporate-wise, he could smell an example when he saw it.

“That’s all,” he said. “Listen, I’ve been in the practice of law for over 20 years and I never heard of someone in a law firm we retained sending a covert note to--. Drop him. Get rid of him.”

Out of old times, I never did drop him. I simply didn’t talk to Geimer again. The backstabbing was the worst that ever happened to me. Also, it was…unmanly.

He went on to become a star of Shevshenko’s book on his defection although I must say the book reported that when Shevshenko got lonely the CIA found a prostitute in the yellow pages to keep him company…who found her I don’t know. He left Nelson & Harding and found “The Jamestown Foundation” which was devoted to support systems for communist defectors…and which now is the leading private intelligence source for anti-terrorism.

Years later, when I was having an after-work drink in the M & M Club he walked over with Ron Gidwitz, a wealthy donor to Jamestown. I nodded, confirmed my acquaintanceship without a handshake and moved away. The second was when after I returned to Quaker from a lengthy hospitalization where I underwent brain surgery, I was thinking about the inevitability of joining the Hereafter. In a spiritual cramming for finals, I decided to call him up. This time he was the remote one.

“Tom Roeser?” he said. “Tom Roeser?” as if he was trying to recall a once hazy friendship. It was arched and falsetto. I said forget it and hung up. I decided that if I were to soon go to eternity, I’d take my chances answering why I distrusted one who backstabbed me. Thus far I never had to explain it but I’m ready when the time comes.

The “Washington Post” had a brief item, two paragraphs, that he had died of colon cancer—about four or five years ago. It was the final severance of a once firm friendship…although the formal one came much earlier…involving a brilliant lawyer who served his country…and me—for a time anyhow.


The Quaker legislation was last time I was in sustained relationship with Tip O’Neill but I always thought he handsomely repaid the interest the company showed in him but forking over a hundred thousand dollars or so for a documentary. Ergo: we made out pretty well. Quaker survived well into the future until after I retired in 1991 when a callow CEO with a mixed record…acquiring Gatorade and brilliantly adding to our profits…and mishandling the acquisition of Snapple and losing respect of much of Wall Street…was bounced.

It all came home to me when I accompanied the new guy…pencil thin, a skier, workout buff, up from the middle class to big time CEO dough (unlike his predecessor, born to great wealth and who handled it unostentatiously) who insisted on his own private jet…to Washington, D. C. for his maiden trip to meet legislators who represented our plants. When Bob Stuart did this, everyone knew where the venerable chairman stood on issues…and welcomed him from Paul Simon on the left to Jesse Helms on the right.

As we flew on “Oat One,” our jet to D. C., I gave the successor a list of legislators whom we were to see. I appended a paragraph of ideological description to each. Our first visit was with Sen. Paul Simon (D-Ill.), a bare-faced fraud who with apple-cheeks and a bow tie strutted in populist fashion…but who was thoroughly identified with the Left. I had so earmarked him for the successor.

To my astonishment, the successor tossed out lines that exhilarated Simon who told me later he was gratified that Quaker at last had a burnished liberal Democrat (at least in ideological tone) at the helm.

The second visit was to the then chairman of the Senate agriculture committee, Jesse Helms…an old guard conservative and a powerfully influential leader. To my stupefaction the successor then tossed out lines that enthralled the old arch-conservative with him almost leaping over the desk, proffering a hand and saying in rich southern tones: “Boy, ah like how you think!” He wouldn’t had he heard the performance that edified Simon.

Since views expressed on the two visits were incompatible, I knew times had changed and there was a total relativistic pragmatist with no convictions in charge instead of a senior executive whose conscience governed his views.

Well, by acquiring Gatorade he became a corporate hero and added to its luster. Then by acquiring Snapple which he mismanaged…placing the blame on his marketing number two whose resignation he accepted…he saw the profits dwindle and the corporate reputation on Wall Street spiral. Then—poof!—he was gone with a fat severance. A soul-less outside mercenary succeeded him whose recourse was to collaborate with fellow vultures on the board who wanted to harvest on the corporate carcass for personal enrichment. And so it was sold to Pepsi. But far in the future. So Canada didn’t buy a piece of the American flag; Americans with no loyalty to its history auctioned it off.

But Tip O’Neill saved us for a time. A valuable stretch of time. He was not the lovable rascal people think: a large swath of meanness was lodged just under the surface. The canard that he drank with Reagan after 6 p.m. and got along because they were Irish. Not true in the slightest. Both were far different: Reagan, a kind of entrepreneur, made his millions as an actor and despised the IRS for taking so much of it; O’Neill who never made that much money but always felt he was better than the Upper Class, truly rhapsodized about the working class and FDR’s “forgotten man” and felt socking the rich with the IRS was elementary justice.

Both made out pretty well in history—one as the most successful president since Roosevelt, the other regarded as one of the country’s more effective Speakers. The CEO who headed Quaker for a time?

He recently told a mutual friend that in politics as everything else I am too ideological. I cherish that critique from a living kaleidoscope of ever-shifting convictions…who by agreeing with both Simon and Helms on the same issues fooled both…but not the one who saw his glaring contradictions.

In our company, he followed a statesman of the industry while he was…is…and will ever be a cipher.

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