Clay Risen of TNR wrote a very interesting investigative report that many or you may have missed.
On March 7, 2007, a "media and research" company called eSapience filed a breach-of-contract lawsuit against C.V. Starr & Co., the California investment firm helmed by Maurice "Hank" Greenberg.
What makes this suit so interesting is not C.V. Starr's alleged actions, but the services eSapience was hired to perform. That's because, far from being a typical p.r. firm, eSapience, run by a clique of conservative, free-market academics, is in the business of buying and manipulating influence at the very highest levels of academic and intellectual circles--a cynical strategy laid out in deep detail by the lawsuit. The suit, in fact, is a Rosetta Stone into the extremes to which a group of right-wingers have taken the phrase "marketplace of ideas"--and it has exposed the lengths to which some people will go to buy intellectual influence.
As many have noted the Right-wing has a much stronger and more extensive network. They use this network to sell their ideas and push their public narratives. They do this it at several different levels, government, media, and academic.
Very little information exists about eSapience outside the suit. Its website, eSapience.org, goes directly to something called the "eSapience Center for Competition Policy" (eCCP), a sort of virtual think tank that organizes conferences, promotes papers, and even publishes a journal, all of which have a decidedly conservative, free-market bent (the journal's editorial board, for example, features a bevy of University of Chicago legal scholars and economists, including Richard Posner and Frank Easterbrook). All of this seems dryly academic and above board--in fact, there is hardly any explanation of what eSapience itself actual is
This is typical of Right-wing think tanks. For all the glamor of the CATO and Hoover institutes, most of the real damage is done, by these faceless nameless institutes. There conservatives toil away in obscurity, underminig everything we love about this country.
The lawsuit, though, shows otherwise. According to the suit, the firm, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is a coterie of high-end academics--the chair is David Evans, a visiting professor at the University College London; a managing director is Richard Schmalensee, dean of the MIT Sloan School of Management; Richard Epstein, the highly regarded Chicago legal scholar, is an affiliate--who use their connections in academia, the media, and the business world to improve their clients' public image. (eSapience declined, through its lawyer, to comment for this article.) According to an accompanying confidential memo to C.V. Starr, obtained by THE NEW REPUBLIC, eSapience promises to "blunt and/or change the conversations that influential people, including public intellectuals, have about the set of issues we are asked.
I hope you read that correctly. They exist in order to misdirect and/or change the very CONVERSATIONS that our leaders are having! WOW!
ESapience planned and executed three such events, on September 12, 14, and 15, 2006. One of them, co-sponsored with the Federalist Society, took place in (where else?) Greenberg Lounge at New York University. Titled "Does Procedure Dominate Substance? Of Class Actions and Pretrial Motions," it appeared no different from the sort of stultifying but edifying conferences that happen several times a week on university campuses. The keynote speech was by the eminent lawyer David Boies; the participants were drawn from top-25 law schools. Two of the participants I contacted knew little beyond the fact that eSapience was a co-sponsor; they were certainly unaware that it had planned the event as part of a scheme to improve Greenberg's image. For them, it was just another academic klatch ("If Hank Greenberg thought this resuscitated his reputation, that is beyond my knowledge or understanding," says NYU Law Professor Samuel Issacharoff). Did the Federalist Society know of the eSapience-Greenberg connection?
OK, so influencing the Federalist Society is one thing. They already are a well know Right-wing outfit. But the next part of this tale should give all of us pause.
Beyond the September events, eSapience also promised to use its existing "channels"--presumably the eCCP and its journal--to further sway opinion, and to "secur[e] a New York Times journalist who might be inclined to write an article related to the lawsuit filed by the new York State Attorney General's Office against Greenberg." It also hired Dan Senor, famous as the Bush administration's spokesman in the early days of the Iraq war, and Mark Corallo, John Ashcroft's former public affairs director, to help in the effort, though the suit doesn't explain their roles further. All this, while billing C.V. Starr at rates between $400 and $1,000 an hour, per person. In about six months, it had run up some $2 million in charges. No wonder C.V. Starr balked at paying.
Did you get that? to further sway opinion, and to "secur[e] a New York Times journalist who might be inclined to write an article related to the lawsuit filed by the new York State Attorney General's Office against Greenberg." They billed someone for "paying off" a NYT reporter! For those who don't know, Hank Greenberg was the former CEO of AIG (one of the nations 10 largest insurance companies), who was ousted after Elliot Spitzer charged him with fraud. AIG and the State of NY settled out of court. Greenberg and the State of NY are still going to trial.
I don't want to falsely accuse people, or commit libel. But I did my own search of NYT archives. I noticed there was a bunch of articles with titles like:
Two Views of a Rising Star: Populist Warrior or Reckless Foe of Big Business? and also like: Spitzer Fights Criticism That He Is a Hothead. Was this just regular campaign reporting? Or was it something more? The problem with an issue like this is it's very hard to ever know. It's also why it's so evily effective.
One more disturbing fact
Under the heading "Independent Channels" eSapience promises to "leverage our relationships with important and highly credible channels including AEI, AEI-Brookings, Hoover Institution, MIT, University of Chicago Law School and the Federalist Society, among others. These organizations will work with us to host conferences, Capitol Hill briefings (if appropriate), co-author papers, link to our Center web sites, and distribute our materials on their web sites, among other things." These organizations may or may not have known of eSapience's plans to abuse their intellectual standing. They clearly didn't get a cut of the profits.
What exactly do Universities need to support a position? Are Professors being "paid off"? Is there a quid pro qou were large donations are being made to the schools? (at the University of Chicago for example, eSapience was a sponsor of the UCL Antitrust & Regulation Forum)I am only speculating, I really don't know???
If I may suggest a few action items.
- If you are an alumn of MIT or the University of Chicago Law School, ask them what their relationship with eSapience is/was? Have they done research for them? Request items written for them, or events co-hosted by them. I hope a few readers are big donors, I think they will have a bigger influence.
- Start emailing the New York Times and Wall Street Journal asking the comptroller about this story. Have they done an internal investigation?
- Keep an eye out for any trial procedings from this. Post them on Daily Kos. Sunshine is always the best disinfectant. The more we see of the Right-wings shady dealings, the less effective they become!