Meet the Wealthy Apparel Magnate Backing the Early Effort to Help Hillary
The America Rising opposition research shop introduces us to the first major Democrat celebrity-with-gobs-of-money to back a SuperPAC encouraging a 2016 Hillary Clinton presidential campaign:
Today, Pro-Hillary Clinton Super PAC announced it had signed on Democrat fundraiser Susie Tompkins Buell, co-founder of clothing line Esprit. In the 1990s, while Tompkins Buell held control of Espirit, the Bay Area sweatshops which were contracted to make garments for Espirit were raided by the federal government. The Department of Labor found that the sweatshops doctored payroll records, paid workers less than minimum wage, and refused to pay overtime.
When asked to cut ties with the manufacturer an Espirit company spokesman said it was more important for the “socially responsible” Espirit to stay in business than to pay its workers the government mandated minimum wage.
For further perspective, she withheld financial support from Barack Obama in 2012 because he hadn’t done enough on climate change to suit her tastes.
Espirit’s whole process of growing cotton and apparel manufacturing, that doesn’t generate any carbon emissions, right?
She’s also credited with delaying the White House’s decision on the Keystone Pipeline:
In October, Buell made headlines after she led a protest of monied Democrats in San Francisco against the controversial 1,700-mile Keystone XL oil pipeline. Her fellow protesters outside an Obama fundraiser included Michael Kieschnick, co-founder of CREDO Mobile and Working Assets, which has donated $75 million to progressive causes; IT executive David desJardins; and Anna Hawken McKay, wife of Rob McKay, a wealthy philanthropist whose father founded Taco Bell.
The Democrats, who could have easily afforded the $5,000-a-plate Obama fundraiser, stood on the curb outside the W Hotel as Buell delivered a tough assessment of the president: “I don’t know where he stands on anything,” she said.
Kieschnick said Buell’s decision to take an aggressive stance was pivotal to the eventual outcome – a White House announcement last month that the application for the pipeline from the Canadian province of Alberta to Texas refineries would be rejected.
“Before her involvement, the powers that be clearly dismissed our concerns” about the long-term environmental impacts of the pipeline, said Kieschnick, who has known Buell for 20 years. People inside the White House “clearly noticed,” he said. “Then they realized this was not only bad policy, this was bad politics.”
Oh, and her corporate management style wasn’t all hearts-and-flowers:
But Esprit de Corp. also ultimately came to epitomize the worst side of another decade, the me decade, the 1980s and its junk-bond daddies and S&L pirates and slick-suited sharpies. After helping manage the company with her then-husband, Doug Tompkins, for 22 years, Susie Tompkins led a 1990 leveraged buyout that gained her control of the company, and netted her an estimated $150 million.
Esprit emerged from the buyout so deeply in debt — and Tompkins Buell’s subsequent helmsmanship left the company in such desperate financial straits — that it went into technical default on its outstanding loans within less than two years. Esprit then spent five years shriveling to a morsel of its former self before Tompkins Buell relinquished all ownership of and involvement in the company in December.
More background on Espirit and sweatshops:
[In 1993] the Department of Labor raided a San Francisco garment shop that works on contract for Esprit and owed its workers $127,000 in back wages. Although the minimum wage is barely livable at $4.25 an hour, the shop contract by Esprit paid only $3.75 with no overtime. Just six months earlier, in a bust of eight Bay Area garment contractors, three of those cited were working for Esprit.
Those three, according to D.O.L. documents, were doctoring payroll records and not paying overtime. After the shops paid the back wages, at least one seamstress complained to the state Labor Commission that the employer was asking for kickbacks.
Esprit’s affable spokesman Dan Imhoff says that garment workers should be paid a wage that “allows them a reasonable life style.” But asked specifically about what Esprit could do to insure this, he shifts the responsibility back to the contractor. “The bottom line is Esprit has to pay its own workers a fair wage. Do you think a socially responsible business would survive if it would pay twice as much to its contractor? How can a company stay in business? This is getting in a very tough nerve.
“Perhaps,” he continues. “Esprit isn’t the shining example that you want . . . [Esprit] can only change so many things at one time.”
I guess it’s easier to support raising the minimum wage when you treat it as optional.