Monday, May 17, 2004

Cintas Wrings Favors From Bush Administration

This is getting to be an old boring story, repeated over and over again over the past three and a half years, but maybe after enough of these stories, even Bush supporters will start to get the idea.....

The Washington Post today contains a long article about how major contributors to the Bush campaign are earning favors worth millions from the Bush administration. I've written before about the Cintas corporation and how the contributions of their owner, Richard T. Farmer, is succeeding in "encouraging" EPA to relax the regulation of solvent-soaked shop towels.

MASON, Ohio -- Richard T. Farmer is one of America's richest men and a Bush Pioneer by virtue of having raised at least $100,000 for the 2000 campaign. Over the past 15 years, he and his wife have given $3.1 million to Bush campaigns, the Republican Party and Republican candidates.

Farmer's family controls Cintas Corp., a $2.7 billion company that rents and launders uniforms and industrial shop towels. For years, Farmer's industry has been at odds with the Environmental Protection Agency over increased regulation of shop towels, particularly a Clinton administration proposal that, though not fatal, "would have cost us a lot of money," Farmer said.

In a recent interview at company headquarters here, Farmer said his campaign donations were made with no strings attached. He said he supports Republicans because they believe in "less government, more individual freedom, more individual responsibility."

"If you think I'm giving money to get access to [President Bush], you're crazy," Farmer said. "I'm just trying to get the right guy elected. That's all I care about."


After a series of telephone calls, e-mails, letters and meetings with representatives of the laundry industry, the EPA had provided industrial-laundry lobbyists with an advance copy of a portion of the proposed rule, which the lobbyists edited and the agency adopted.

That same opportunity was not given to the rule's opponents -- environmental groups, a labor union, hazardous-waste landfill operators and paper towel manufacturers who argue their product should be treated as environmentally equal to laundered towels. The opponents say industrial laundries send tens of thousands of tons of hazardous chemicals to municipal sewage treatment plants and landfills where toxics can get into groundwater, streams and rivers. Labor unions contend that the towels expose workers to cancer-causing fumes.

Cintas said in a statement that the rewritten rule will prevent pollution because "reusable shop towels are friendlier to the environment" than disposable paper towels.

The proposed shop towel rule is but one example of a policy change by the Bush administration that favors a company controlled by a Bush Pioneer or Ranger, who as a group have helped the president bank a record $200 million for the 2004 election campaign. The shop towel case reflects the subtle interactions between corporations and an administration determined to roll back what it considers to be regulatory overkill. For many big donors, getting "the right guy elected," as Farmer puts it, is an end in itself.
The labor union UNITE has been locked in a fierce organizing battle with Cintas, the nation's largest industrial laundry. The company supplies uniforms to over 500,000 businesses, and it employs 27,000 workers. Cintas has also received a number of OSHA citations.