Since When Did Lobbying and PR Become Extortion?
I do advocacy work. So why am I accused of being part of a criminal conspiracy?
By Karen Hinton, Politico Magazine
28 January 2014
Within the next two months, a New York federal judge is expected to rule in an environmental case that goes to the core of how lobbyists, publicists and other advocates up and down K Street make their living.
If you are one of them and you know nothing about Chevron's racketeering lawsuit against a group of Ecuadorian indigenous peoples, farmers and their attorneys (Chevron Corp. vs. Donziger), it's time to tune into this 20-year battle over who should pay to clean up one of the world's worst oil contamination disasters.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business groups are backing Chevron. They hope a favorable ruling from U.S. Federal Judge Lewis A. Kaplan will help put trial lawyers out of business and weaken the ability of human rights advocates to hold corporations accountable for their misconduct. Billions of dollars are at stake. But the business groups should be careful what they ask for. The result could yield a double-edged sword that strikes not just at contingency-fee lawyers and environmental activists but encourages internecine corporate warfare as well.
Chevron is likely to win its lawsuit in the lower court – a retaliatory fight to try and avoid a $9.5 billion Ecuador judgment. Kaplan, who's hearing the case, made numerous prejudicial statements against the Ecuadorians even before he read or heard one statement in their defense. Tellingly, Kaplan suggested the oil giant file the racketeering and extortion (RICO) charges against the Ecuadorians and their attorneys. In turn, the defendants have argued that Kaplan is biased and should be recused. As proof, they cite comments Kaplan has made that disparage Ecuador's courts and government and question whether the Ecuadorian villagers harmed by Chevron's pollution actually exist. He appears to be utterly unbothered by the fact Ecuador's Supreme Court affirmed the judgment against Chevron after knocking about $10 billion off the company's liability.
Meanwhile, Chevron maintains it's a victim of a conspiracy campaign that works something like this:
The attorneys, who head up this "criminal enterprise" and are to be paid on a contingency basis, filed a fraudulent lawsuit with the sole purpose of enriching themselves. Publicists for the Ecuadorians (I'm one), lobbyists and unpaid environmental advocates, recruited by the attorneys, colluded with them and the Ecuadorians to pressure Chevron to pay a judgment or settle – a violation of the RICO statute, according to Chevron and Kaplan.
In other words, Chevron's theory is that hard-hitting press releases and lobbying before Congress and government agencies to draw attention to the U.S.-based company's actions in Ecuador equal economic extortion and are part of a grand conspiracy to pressure them to pay.
Put another way, hard-hitting press releases and lobbying before Congress and government agencies by (insert you and your client) against (insert your client's competitors or opponents) about (insert issue that financially benefits your client) could equal extortion and be a violation of the RICO statute. Plaintiffs who win civil RICO cases are entitled to treble damages, which could bankrupt many companies or trade associations if they were to be so targeted.