Politics

Clinton-Linked PR Agency Executive Is Spokesman For Firm Facing Multiple Flint Water Crisis Lawsuits

Ron Brynaert Freelance Reporter

A top executive for a global agency that gives free PR for the Clinton Global Initiative and has multiple ties to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is also the spokesman for a firm facing multiple lawsuits in the Flint water crisis.

The PR agency, APCO Worldwide, has contributed up to $50,000 to the Clinton Foundation, and has worked alongside it for more than eight years. The head of the firm is a former Clinton donor, and some of its employees worked in President Bill Clinton’s administration.

Pete Wentz is the executive director of APCO’s Chicago office. He’s also the spokesman for Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam Inc., a Houston-based engineering firm facing multiple lawsuits “alleging gross negligence, professional negligence and battery for alleged lead poisoning of about 50 children in Flint over the past two years.”

Thirty to 60 lawsuits have been filed over the drinking water public health scandal, and LAN is named in at least nine, because it was “hired to oversee a refit of the city’s nearly century-old Water Treatment Plant when Flint separated from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department in April 2014.”

Wentz defended the engineering firm this way in March: “The systems we provided services on are operating without issue, and it is clear that LAN provided these specific services in a responsible and appropriate manner in accordance with industry standards. Decisions concerning the optimization plan for corrosion control were made by the city and the (MDEQ) and not by LAN. LAN continues to assist the City of Flint as it addresses the various water issues confronting the city today.”

A task force appointed by Michigan’s Republican governor issued a 116-page report on March 21 charging “government failure, intransigence, unpreparedness, delay, inaction and environmental injustice.” It also blamed Gov. Rick Snyder’s office.

But the Flint Water Advisory Task Force didn’t have subpoena power, and the report claimed LAN ducked written questions and an interview request. Before it was issued, Wentz blamed the city and the state Department of Environmental Quality for “the crucial decision not to use corrosion-control chemicals in treating the Flint Water, which resulted in lead leaching from pipes, joints and fixtures,” Detroit Free Press reported.

After the report’s release, Wentz argued LAN did send the task force documents, claiming it “recommended a 60-to-90-day test run of the plant to test water quality, which apparently didn’t happen, and questioned the decision not to use corrosion-control chemicals, but was told by city officials they intended to do no more than what the DEQ required.”

Engineering News Report noted that LAN did issue a report in October 2014 on how the “level of total trihalomethanes (TTHMs), the potentially harmful compounds that are a by-product of chlorination, exceeded federal maximum levels.” It added, “While we would have preferred engineers to have stood up and blown a whistle on the Flint lead dangers, the engineers appear not to have been hired to do the tasks needed to figure that out.”

But it also wrote that “engineers can invite problems with overly optimistic public statements that don’t come with disclaimers about scope of work,” and that “engineers can and will be sued when trouble arises.”

In response to a class action lawsuit, Wentz said it had “no merit”, and that LAN “will vigorously defend our position in court.”

It’s unclear when LAN hired Wentz, and if it was through APCO Worldwide. The PR firm’s website doesn’t mention LAN as a client, but notes that “much of APCO’s work is confidential in nature.” Wentz’s LinkedIn profile names APCO as his current employer, and makes no reference to LAN.

In a January Democratic presidential debate, Hillary Clinton said she was “outraged” that a city with many African-Americans “has been drinking and bathing in lead-contaminated water,” and that Gov. Snyder would have been more concerned if it happened to “kids in a rich suburb of Detroit.” Bernie Sanders and Clinton have both called on Snyder to resign.

LAN employees have contributed $218.76 to the Hillary For America campaign in 2015, and $200 in 2016. Margery Kraus, executive chairman of APCO Worldwide, donated $2,300 to the Hillary Clinton for President campaign in 2007, but hasn’t openly contributed to her in the 2016 race. APCO has also donated between $25,000 and $50,000 to the Clinton Foundation.

APCO has partnered with CGI many times over the last eight years. ABC News reported in May 2015 that it “has long provided public relations services for the Clinton Foundation, free of charge.” Last September, a press release announced, “Global communications consultancy APCO Worldwide is partnering with CGI to support communications at the CGI 2015 Annual Meeting. APCO staff members will be located in the Press Working Room and will be able to help with inquiries and with contacting CGI members.”

A few former Clintonites work at APCO Worldwide, including Mark Medis, who served as a special assistant to former President Clinton, and Lisa Osborne Ross, a Clinton administration official for both of his terms.

Last December, APCO and Teneo, another PR firm closely tied to the Clintons, reportedly discussed a possible merger, but ended talks in January. Teneo was co-founded by two Hillary Clinton fundraisers, including CEO Declan Kelly, who she appointed as an envoy to Northern Ireland, and Doug Band, who led the Clinton Global Initiative for years. Bill Clinton was once a paid advisor, and Hillary’s vice chair for her 2016 presidential campaign Huma Abedin worked for Teneo and the Clinton Foundation, while working for the State Department.

Incidentally, Wentz’s son, also named Pete, is the bassist and lead songwriter for Grammy-winning rock band Fall Out Boy. Pete Wentz, Sr. once advised his son to change the name of a song he originally titled “My Name is David Ruffin and These Are the Temptations” to “Our Lawyer Made Us Change The Name Of This Song So We Wouldn’t Get Sued.”