Dear Mr. Berko:
My daughter owns a profitable business in another state and has 87 employees. Please don’t mention the company or product, because it might compromise her chances of obtaining an export license for nonstrategic industrial machinery, which is currently exported by three other U.S. companies. My daughter patented, designed and produced a similar but better machine at half the price of her competition. She has $6.4 million in orders from two European companies but can’t get an export license. She has tried for 15 months but keeps getting the runaround. She is asked for more technical information, given additional forms to complete, and asked for background information on company management and other data you wouldn’t believe. She’s completed the BIS-748P multipurpose application form twice. She has contacted the embassies of the destination countries and continues to get stonewalled. She also has contacted several members of Congress for help, but all she gets is lip service. She’s spent more than $85,000 in legal, labor and technical costs without any success. I know you have some contacts in Congress, and I’d get down on my knees and beg if you could provide me with some advice that I could share with my daughter.
L.S., Port Charlotte, Fla.
I understand your frustration, but I don’t have those kinds of contacts in Congress. I know a few guys who will talk to me, but only if it suits their purpose. And I sometimes publish what they tell me, but only if it suits this column’s purpose.
Have you considered that the current companies exporting this piece of industrial machinery are unable to produce a competitive product as cheaply as your daughter’s company can? Maybe that’s the reason, and if so, they could be conspiring to keep her out of the market to protect their profits. And in this competitive business world, they’re lawfully doing what most business people would do. However, an impeccable source tells me that a significant contribution to the congressman in your daughter’s district would definitely be helpful. So when speaking to one of the 271 legislative staffers in that congressman’s office, tell that individual you wish to make a $50,000 (cash) contribution to the congressman’s political action committee. Once you have that congressman’s attention, you will be amazed at the alacrity with which your request is honored. This is the time-honored way because most congressmen won’t do anything for you unless you can do a lot for them. It’s called the great American trade-off, and it’s one of the reasons it pays so well to be a member of Congress. But be aware that the staffer may tell you to contact a certain lobbyist. And you may be instructed to write the lobbyist a check, which he will cash, but don’t worry, because the money will reach the intended destination. It will be helpful to read the following.
We voters are the great unwashed and looked upon as insignificant pissants by members of Congress. Did you know that Congress employs 18,742 staff people to work for its 535 members? The Senate has a staff of 6,930 people, or 69.3 staffers for each of its 100 members. The House of Representatives has a staff of 11,812 people, or 27.1 staffers for each of its members. Wow! That’s a lot of flesh to press. Your representative and his staffers are also well-fed by 37,000 sleazy lobbyists, or an average of 69.1 sleazes for each member of Congress. And a nod from one of these overfed lobbyists can open doors that otherwise would be closed. It’s estimated that in 2011, these lobbyists dispersed $4.3 billion in cash, favors, perks and untraceable assets for legislative favors. In 2011, General Electric’s lobbyists gave $178 million to members of Congress, allowing GE to avoid federal taxes on its 2011 income of $15 billion. So lobbyists for Verizon, Boeing, Baxter International, Tenet Healthcare and others contributed millions, and these companies avoided federal taxes, too. You’ve gotta pay to play, and that’s the Congress way. Let me know how it goes.