May 23, 2001

                    Page One Feature

                    Knowing Commerce Chairman Tauzin Has Perks for Those in Tire Imbroglio

                    By GREG HITT and STEPHEN POWER
                    Staff Reporters of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

                    WASHINGTON -- At about noon Monday, shortly before
                    Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. announced its decision to
                    terminate a century-old business relationship with Ford Motor
                    Co., a lobbyist for the tire company, Wallace Henderson,
                    placed a call to the office of Rep. W.J. "Billy" Tauzin.

                    "We're going to have an early version of Pearl Harbor," Mr.
                    Henderson warned a Tauzin aide, Ken Johnson.

                    Later, Mr. Henderson got a call back from the aide, telling
                    him that Ford Chief Executive Jacques Nasser already had
                    scheduled a meeting with Mr. Tauzin for Tuesday. By day's
                    end Firestone Chief Executive John Lampe had gotten a head
                    start on his Ford counterpart, arranging a private phone
                    conversation with the congressman.
                    The day's rapid-fire events reflect a new
                    reality in the nation's capital. Just four
                    months into his reign as chairman of the
                    House Commerce Committee -- which
                    oversees just about everything that is
                    bought, sold, moved or traded in the United
                    States -- Mr. Tauzin, a peppery Louisiana
                    Republican, has become the man to see for
                    corporate chieftains in Washington. And a
                    bevy of his friends and former staffers are
                    building careers based on their connections
                    to him.

                    Even by Washington standards, Mr. Tauzin's web of corporate
                    contacts is impressively profuse, and his revolving door spins
                    unusually swiftly. Mr. Henderson, for instance, has been in
                    and out of that door repeatedly for two decades, alternating
                    between jobs on Mr. Tauzin's staff and stints as a private
                    lobbyist. He got his job representing Firestone last
                    September, after Rep. Tauzin publicly grilled company
                    officials during a hearing.

                    The tire-company lobbyist makes no apologies for his clients
                    being drawn to his ties to Mr. Tauzin. "I'm what you call
                    lagniappe," says Mr. Henderson. That's Cajun, he adds, for
                    "something extra."

                    With this week's new explosion of animosity and
                    finger-pointing, Ford and Bridgestone/Firestone are both
                    looking for something extra in trying to appease lawmakers.
                    Mr. Tauzin has called for hearings after Memorial Day to
                    examine Ford's claims that additional Firestone tires are
                    unsafe and need to be pulled from the road. Firestone is
                    firing back with charges that the design of Ford's popular
                    Explorer sport-utility vehicle also contributed to traffic
                    accidents, as did Ford's decision to recommend an inflation
                    level lower than what the tiremaker suggested.

                                         While fighting fierce public-relations and
                                         legal battles, both sides are scrambling
                                         to influence Mr. Tauzin. In that effort,
                                         Mr. Henderson has an inside track. He is
                                         among a small clique of Tauzin
                                         confidantes who occasionally congregate
                                         in Wingate, Md., 115 miles east of the
                                         Capitol, on 233 acres of prime
                                         duck-hunting property that Mr. Tauzin
                    owns. The modest lodge on his property "is a place of sport
                    and recreation" only, says the 57-year-old chairman.
                    Friendship and official business, he adds, are entirely

                    Of his lobbyist and industry chums, Mr. Tauzin says, "I love
                    these people. It'd be horrible if I didn't have any friends." But
                    he insists, "They're not entitled to anything other than my
                    friendship. Anything else, they've got to earn."

                    Another Tauzin hunting buddy and former staff employee is
                    Louisiana-born lobbyist Dan Brouillette. Mr. Brouillette last
                    year helped Mr. Tauzin organize a fund-raising gala at the
                    Washington Hilton that brought in $7.2 million for the House
                    GOP campaign committee. The event benefited all Republican
                    House candidates. But it also fit into Mr. Tauzin's personal
                    strategy to win the gratitude of House colleagues, who then
                    supported him in a hotly contested intramural GOP race for
                    the coveted Commerce chairmanship.

                    Since Mr. Tauzin was chosen to head the committee, Mr.
                    Brouillette picked up two major new clients that will now
                    have an open line to the chairman: AT&T Corp. and Swedish
                    Match NA, a tobacco company. "You feel like a prom queen,
                    of sorts," Mr. Brouillette says of his recent popularity.

                    AT&T spokesman Jim McGann declines to address the value
                    of Mr. Brouillette's friendship with Mr. Tauzin but does say,
                    "The committee Congressman Tauzin leads has a great deal
                    to say about the future of our industry." A Swedish Match
                    spokesman declines to comment.

                    Mr. Brouillette now works at the lobbying firm Alpine Group,
                    but President Bush recently announced his intention to
                    nominate him to be assistant secretary of energy.

                    The runner-up in the contest for the Commerce Committee
                    chairmanship was Ohio Rep. Michael Oxley. As a consolation
                    prize, Mr. Oxley was given the chairmanship of a newly
                    created Financial Services Committee, which adopted most of
                    the commerce panel's responsibility for overseeing financial
                    markets. But Mr. Tauzin insisted his committee share
                    oversight of accounting standards, even though some in the
                    House argued those issues fit more naturally within the
                    jurisdiction of the new committee.

                    No one was happier about that small victory than Mr.
                    Brouillette, who represents accounting giant Arthur Andersen.
                    As a Tauzin aide, Mr. Brouillette worked on finance issues,
                    among other things. And during the closed-door struggle for
                    committee jurisdiction, he says he informally provided
                    ammunition to his former boss on the Commerce Committee's
                    history of oversight of the accounting industry. "People turn
                    to their friends," Mr. Brouillette explains.

                    Others who frequent the Tauzin hunting retreat near the
                    marshy banks of the Honga River are Tim McKone and Ward
                    White, in-house lobbyists for SBC Communications Inc. and
                    BellSouth Corp., respectively. Both have helped Mr. Tauzin
                    raise campaign money for GOP causes. The two Baby Bells, in
                    turn, would benefit enormously if Mr. Tauzin follows through
                    on his stated priorities for the current Congress.

                    Shortly after claiming the Commerce chairmanship, Mr. Tauzin
                    announced he would push legislation -- long blocked by the
                    previous committee leader -- that would make it easier for
                    Bell companies to carry long-distance Internet traffic, by
                    eliminating a requirement that they first get regulatory
                    approval. The bill, which Mr. Tauzin recently steered through
                    his committee, is expected to pass in the full House but
                    faces a tougher road in the Senate.

                    "Friendships do mean something," says Mr. White, who has
                    worked for BellSouth since 1995 and earlier was an aide to
                    former Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole. And tramping
                    through the marshes of Maryland's Eastern Shore in pursuit of
                    mallards is well worth the time and wet boots. "If
                    [lawmakers] know who you are," Mr. White says, "they're
                    going to give you a fair hearing."

                    Friendships work in both directions. Mr. Tauzin's son was
                    hired, at his urging, as a lobbyist in Louisiana for BellSouth.

                    During last year's fight over the Commerce Committee's
                    leadership and jurisdiction, Mr. Tauzin also managed to hold
                    onto oversight of online-trading systems, even though most
                    other brokerage-related issues ended up in the Financial
                    Services Committee. As it happens, while that jurisdictional
                    spat was going on, another of Mr. Tauzin's Cajun colleagues
                    and former employees, Mimi Simoneaux, was representing an
                    online-trading affiliate of Datek Online Holdings Corp., while
                    working as a lobbyist at the Washington firm Clark &

                    In January, Ms. Simoneaux signed on as chief of staff of Mr.
                    Tauzin's personal office. She had earlier worked for him from
                    1991 to 1998, when she left to try her hand at lobbying.

                    A central player in the network of Louisiana friends and
                    lobbyists who surround Mr. Tauzin is Mr. Henderson. They
                    first met in the 1970s, during Mr. Tauzin's turn through the
                    state legislature in Baton Rouge. When Mr. Tauzin was
                    elected to Congress in 1980, Mr. Henderson followed him to
                    Washington as a staff member and has done two other stints
                    as an aide to the congressman since. During spells as a
                    lobbyist and political consultant, Mr. Henderson has
                    represented telecommunications interests and the state of
                    Louisiana, among others.

                    'Like an Older Brother'

                    "Billy has been like an older brother to me," Mr. Henderson

                    With his thick white hair and beard, Mr. Henderson, 56, bears
                    a passing resemblance to Kenny Rogers, the country singer.
                    At the private 116 Club on Capitol Hill, a plate of pork chops
                    and sauerkraut grows cold before him as he is repeatedly
                    interrupted by fellow lobbyists offering greetings.

                    His last stint as a Tauzin aide ended 20 months ago, when
                    he went back to lobbying, based largely on his access to Mr.
                    Tauzin and his experience drafting legislation. Initially
                    working on his own, Mr. Henderson quickly picked up two
                    communications clients with interests before the Commerce
                    Committee: the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet
                    Association, which represents wireless phone companies, and
                    the U.S. Telecom Association, a trade group representing
                    local Bell companies. A few months later, Mr. Henderson
                    joined Public Strategies Inc., an Austin, Texas-based
                    lobbying firm, bringing along his old clients and adding two
                    others that reflected the value of his Tauzin connections:
                    Fantasma Networks, a Palo Alto, Calif., telecommunications
                    company, and Itron Inc., a Spokane, Wash., manufacturer of
                    remote utility meter-reading devices.

                    With Mr. Henderson's help, Fantasma executives secured a
                    meeting with Mr. Tauzin last fall, seeking support for the
                    firm's application before the Federal Communications
                    Commission to create a new wireless network.

                    Mr. Tauzin didn't immediately respond to Fantasma's plea,
                    and now it's too late. The company shut down this year
                    because of a lack of financing. But founder Robert Aiello says
                    he was grateful for Mr. Henderson's providing an "opportunity
                    to educate the chairman."

                    That's precisely what Bridgestone/Firestone hoped for, as
                    well, when its officials met last September with colleagues of
                    Mr. Henderson's at Public Strategies to discuss obtaining his
                    services. It turned out that at the very same time,
                    representatives of Ford were meeting with Mr. Henderson
                    himself to see if he was available.

                    Most of the fatal accidents leading to the Firestone recall
                    involved Ford Explorer SUVs. Public Strategies turned down
                    the car company because Ford and Bridgestone/Firestone
                    were already blaming each other for problems with Firestone

                    Firestone spokespeople decline to say why the company hired
                    Mr. Henderson's firm. A Ford official declines to comment on
                    the company's dealings with Public Strategies.

                    Mr. Tauzin's panel is asking all tiremakers and manufacturers
                    of light trucks, sport-utility vehicles and minivans for data
                    that would indicate whether the Firestone recall was an
                    isolated event or reflects a broader safety problem involving
                    tires and certain kinds of vehicles. Since January, the
                    committee has asked companies to submit warranty data for
                    their products, as well as recommended tire-inflation levels.
                    Mr. Johnson, the Tauzin aide, says the committee is still
                    gathering the data.

                    Still on the 'Radar Screen'

                    "We're not done with the tire companies yet," Mr. Johnson
                    says. In addition to the Commerce Committee review, the
                    congressman is awaiting the results of the National Highway
                    Traffic Safety Administration's investigation of Firestone's
                    recall of 6.5 million tires linked to 174 traffic deaths. That
                    report could lead to another round of hearings. "When our bill
                    was passed last fall, a lot of people thought that that was
                    the end of the story," Mr. Johnson says. But "the issue
                    continues to be on our radar screen."

                    Since the beginning of the year, Bridgestone/Firestone's
                    chairman, Mr. Lampe, has made at least three pilgrimages to
                    Capitol Hill. He has talked with lawmakers from North
                    Carolina and Tennessee -- home to many company
                    employees -- and met most recently, in March, with Mr.
                    Tauzin. Mr. Henderson was on hand to make introductions,
                    and the charm campaign appears to have built some

                    Mr. Tauzin was impressed with the sincerity of Mr. Lampe's
                    promise that the company will do whatever it takes "to
                    prevent this from happening again," says Mr. Johnson, the
                    Tauzin spokesman.

                    "The next time there's a fire," Mr. Henderson says, echoing
                    the pitch he has been making for his embattled client, "you
                    want to be there before the barn is burning down."

                    Write to Greg Hitt at and Stephen Power