Oh, Kerry Kennedy, ex-wife of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, daughter of the late Robert F. Kennedy. You sounded so compelling when you spoke and wrote of the catastrophe of the oil-drilled rain forests of Ecuador, when you called them “the greatest corporate environmental disaster on the face of the Earth, in the history of the world.” The story of Texaco’s ill-executed oil wells in Ecuador (at least, the way you told it) seemed to justify your outrage, your hyperbole, your calls for parent company Chevron to settle billions and billions of dollars on the Ecuadoreans whose health was weakened and hometown ravaged. Alas, I should have known:
Kennedy, 52, was secretly hired as a “public-relations consultant” by the lawyer representing the Ecuadoreans in an $18 billion lawsuit against Chevron, according to court documents.
Cashing in on her respected family name and legacy, Kennedy raked in tens of thousands of dollars and was given a 0.25 percent stake — worth as much as $40 million — if the $18 billion judgment handed down by an Ecuadorean judge is ultimately upheld. (Chevron has not yet paid pending its countersuit in Manhattan federal court.)
Kennedy was paid a flat $50,000 by lead attorney Steven Donziger on Feb. 22, 2010, bank statements made public in the case show.
She was set to pull down an additional $10,000 per month, according to a September 2010 draft budget by the law firm. And she was to get another $40,000 in expenses in June 2010, according to an invoice from Donziger.
But being a hired shill didn’t stop Kennedy from presenting herself as a crusader with only a personal interest and familial duty to Ecuador’s indigenous masses.
Actually, according to a Chevron statement (and to all we know about the case up to this point), this is really nothing new. “No less than eight U.S. judges have found that the trial in Ecuador has been marred by the fraud and misconduct of the plaintiffs’ representatives,” Chevron’s statement reads. “This latest development is yet another example of the plaintiffs’ documented misconduct and unethical behavior.”
What I’ll never understand about this is what Ms. Kennedy thought she had to gain by her lack of transparency. Somebody with the last name “Kennedy” ought to know the media spotlight eventually illuminates even the most cobwebby corners of a celebrity’s life. Why not come clean? If Texaco really did wipe out 1,700 square miles of rain forest, if the company really did dump crude oil and emit toxins in the watershed and air, as the plaintiffs claim, then Ms. Kennedy’s place on the payroll of the lawyers pursuing the case doesn’t change that. In other words, it isn’t necessarily less noble to work for a cause than to volunteer for it. It’s decidedly less noble, however, to work for it but pretend to volunteer for it. (And, of course, it’s highly ignoble to manufacture or embellish “facts” of a case, which appears to be another part of the plaintiffs’ problem here.)
According to a spokesperson for the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights (of which Kerry Kennedy is president), Ms. Kennedy is currently traveling, so she’s hard to contact at the moment, but I’ve put in a media request to her assistant to ask why she didn’t disclose this information when she made media appearances attacking Chevron for its supposed role in the destruction of the Ecuadorean rain forests. I’ll let you know if I receive a response.
Update I: This post originally misidentified Kerry Kennedy as the ex-wife of Mario Cuomo, instead of Andrew Cuomo. The post has been corrected above.
Update II: Louis Bickford, director of operations for the RFK Center, e-mailed me with this reply from Kerry Kennedy:
This is classic Chevron: blame the victim, change the subject. They attack those working to force them to remediate the damage they caused. Chevron is responsible for the greatest environmental catastrophe in history, which cost untold lives and destroyed an area of pristine rainforest the size of Rhode Island. Chevron lost the case in Ecuador, as well as efforts in U.S. courts to block the judgement. The company is on its last legal leg, and is turning to desperate personal attacks.
While I was compensated for time and expenses, I have never and will never have a financial interest in the outcome of the litigation. The notion of a $40 million dollar fee is utter fiction. Chevron will do anything to change the subject.
Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights Honorary Chair, RFK Foundation of Europe, Onlus