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Internal Toyota Documents Show Political Influence, Lobbying

Posted: Feb 22, 2010 11:00 a.m.

Toyota executives, including new company president Akio Toyoda, are strategizing for a series of Congressional hearings into the company’s safety practices set to begin on Wednesday. And, as they plan, they have one particular worry in mind, according to internal memos obtained by a Congressional subpoena: Democrats.  Yet the company has a lot of friends in both parties in Washington, including some members of Congress expected to have prominent roles in investigating the automaker’s safety record.

Politico reports that, in a presentation prepared for Toyota executives “obtained under subpoena by the House Oversight and Government Relations committee,” Toyota’s Washington, D.C. office “derided the Obama administration and Democratic Congress as “activist” and “not industry friendly.” 

The document notes that new management at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the chief federal agency responsible for auto safety regulation, “includes more attorneys…even in the leadership of Rulemaking and Enforcement,” and “has less understanding of engineering issues.”

The automaker is very familiar with politics inside Washington.  The Washington Post reports, “The automaker and its affiliates have assembled a formidable lobbying force to build support on Capitol Hill and leverage longstanding relationships with key lawmakers.”  Executives have hired crisis management experts from a major Washington lobbying firm.  The company “already has an advantage built over a decade of targeted political giving. More than 40 percent of the 125 members of Congress serving on the three committees investigating Toyota have received campaign donations over the past 10 years” from the company.

In a separate report, Politico adds, “Toyota’s tentacles are spread far and wide on Capitol Hill. Senate records show Toyota-related entities spent $4.1 million on lobbying last year — and $35.2 million during the past decade.”

Some members of Congress who have significant roles in the investigation into Toyota’s activities also have significant ties to the company.  The AP notes, “The Senate's lead Toyota investigator, West Virginia Democrat Jay Rockefeller, credits himself with lobbying Toyota to build a factory in his state. A member of a House investigating panel, California Rep. Jane Harman (D), represents the district of Toyota's U.S. headquarters and has financial ties to the company.”

The company has also won political support from four Governors (three Republicans and one Democrat) who host Toyota plants in their states.  The Post reports, “In a strongly worded letter last week to House investigators, the quartet chastised federal officials who had ‘spoken out against Toyota’ and raised questions about whether the federal government can fairly judge allegations against the company.”

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