Trade with what in less politically correct times was called the Far East is a vital part of the American economy. The Pacific Rim nations are a hub of economic activity whose imports and exports have a direct bearing on the health of the U.S. economy and, for this reason, is a center of interest for U.S. policymakers.
The challenge of course is to balance economic interests with those in the national security arena, especially where China is concerned. The People’s Republic is a major trading partner and owns a considerable portion of the U.S. debt held by other countries, but it is also a global competitor, constantly on the lookout for ways to expand its influence around the world.
Because of the complex U.S.-China relationship, Congress considered it advisable in October 2000 to create the U.S.-China Economic Security Review Commission. Its purpose is to monitor and investigate the national security implications of our bilateral trade with China and submit an annual report assessing whether the safeguards currently in place are adequate to the job and to recommend improvements and changes where they are not.
What the commission was not created for was to allow one of its members to, alone, launch a personal vendetta arising from his or her other business interests in an effort to shape U.S. policy. Yet that is exactly what one appointee may be trying to do.
Jeffrey Fiedler, the assistant to the president and director of special projects for the International Union of Operating Engineers, who has no apparent expertise in U.S. China national security matters, is one of former House Speaker and current Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s appointees to the Commission. Fiedler’s “day job” is to run what are known as corporate campaigns making life difficult for U.S. companies whose employees have turned down the IUOE’s kind offer to help them organize themselves into a bargaining unit and, in exchange, become dues-paying members of the union.
Fiedler’s track record in this area is impressive. He’s trained what some argue are questionable tactics on a number of publically traded American companies including, of special note in this discussion, some of the highly regulated entities that are part of the global entertainment and gaming industry. In one specific case he recently went after Wynn Macau, accusing the company through a press release and accompanying document dump of what can charitably be called “improper dealings.”
All this is part of a larger effort aimed at unionizing Wynn Resorts, a company founded by prominent hotelier and Las Vegas icon Steve Wynn. Fiedler has repeatedly alleged improper activities are going on behind its corporate walls and has fruitlessly urged regulators in both Nevada and Macau to investigate the charge. And of course, were the IUOE successful in unionizing Wynn, these allegations would magically disappear. When combined with a public advocacy effort run through a now-discredited and disassembled website, CasinoLeaks-Macau, it packs a punch as powerful and ultimately unsuccessful as those thrown by Manny “The Pacman” Pacquiao in his recent bout with Floyd Mayweather.
How and where do all these things– casinos and global entertainment and the need to maintain U.S. national security interests in America’s trade with China – intersect? Why at the U.S.-China Commission where, since Fiedler became a member, has gone so far as to single out the U.S. companies involved in the casino business in Macau in a bad light in its 2013 report to Congress.
It doesn’t take too much brain work to see that Fiedler may be inappropriately using his perch at the U.S. China Commission to benefit the union and his work there. And – let’s face it – using a U.S. government advisory commission to pursue a personal business objective just doesn’t seem ethical, especially to the American taxpayers who, in this case, are the ones footing the bill. Even if Fiedler’s agitations and requests for investigations are made in his private capacity, his status as a member of the Commission gives him a patina of legitimacy.
Fiedler’s activities in this regard should come as an embarrassment to Mrs. Pelosi – who probably is not aware of them even though Mr. Fiedler’s union has contributed mightily to the Democrats’ various campaign committees (including $10,000 to the former speaker’s personal campaign funding stream). Cronyism comes in many forms. No one who holds public office should be allowed to attack respected U.S. companies doing business in China while ostensibly serving the Congress and the American people regarding the subject of U.S.-Chinese economic and national security interests. It would probably be better for all concerned if Mrs. Pelosi were to ask for his resignation quietly and find a qualified person without conflicts of interest to serve in his place. Or, perhaps, like so many other government bodies established with good intentions that have run off the rails, Congress should just eliminate it. That would amount to about $4.5 million per year no longer borrowed from China.
Peter Roff is a senior fellow at Frontiers of Freedom, a group that advocates for transparency and ethical conduct in government.