In an excellent investigative report last Sunday (may require free registration) that is part of a series on how "how businesses and investors seek to profit from the soaring number of older Americans, in ways helpful and harmful," the New York Times' Charles Duhigg exposed the despicable tactics of elder-scam artists and the "information services" companies that supply them the "sucker lists" they need.
He may not have known that he was simultaneously exposing information that could, and arguably should, damage the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton.
Duhigg led with the truly sad story of 92 year-old Richard Guthrie:
..... He ended up on scam artists’ lists because his name, like millions of others, was sold by large companies to telemarketing criminals, who then turned to major banks to steal his life’s savings.
Mr. Guthrie, who lives in Iowa, had entered a few sweepstakes that caused his name to appear in a database advertised by infoUSA, one of the largest compilers of consumer information. InfoUSA sold his name, and data on scores of other elderly Americans, to known lawbreakers, regulators say.
InfoUSA advertised lists of “Elderly Opportunity Seekers,” 3.3 million older people “looking for ways to make money,” and “Suffering Seniors,” 4.7 million people with cancer or Alzheimer’s disease. “Oldies but Goodies” contained 500,000 gamblers over 55 years old, for 8.5 cents apiece. One list said: “These people are gullible. They want to believe that their luck can change.”
As Mr. Guthrie sat home alone — surrounded by his Purple Heart medal, photos of eight children and mementos of a wife who was buried nine years earlier — the telephone rang day and night. After criminals tricked him into revealing his banking information, they went to Wachovia, the nation’s fourth-largest bank, and raided his account, according to banking records.
Telemarketing fraud, once limited to small-time thieves, has become a global criminal enterprise preying upon millions of elderly and other Americans every year, authorities say. Vast databases of names and personal information, sold to thieves by large publicly traded companies, have put almost anyone within reach of fraudulent telemarketers. And major banks have made it possible for criminals to dip into victims’ accounts without their authorization, according to court records.
“Most people have no idea how widespread and sophisticated telemarketing fraud has become,” said James Davis, a Federal Trade Commission lawyer. “It shocks even us.”
Many of the victims are people like Mr. Guthrie, whose name was among the millions that infoUSA sold to companies under investigation for fraud, according to regulators. Scam artists stole more than $100,000 from Mr. Guthrie, his family says.
Senior executives at infoUSA were contacted by telephone and e-mail messages at least 30 times. They did not respond.
In Thursday's New York Post, Dick Morris and Eileen McGann pegged off of the Duhigg's story:
EVERY year since he left the White House, former President Bill Clinton has been paid by InfoUSA - an Omaha, Neb., company now identified as a key provider of databases that enable criminals to defraud the unsuspecting elderly.
Senate rules don't require Hillary Clinton to reveal exactly how much - or for what - the company has paid her husband over the past five years. But former presidents - especially Bill Clinton - don't come cheap. And, just months after he left the presidency, InfoUSA paid Bill Clinton $200,000 to give a speech in Omaha. Since then, it has paid him an undisclosed amount each year - listed only as "more than $1,000" for "non-employee compensation" on Sen. Clinton's financial-disclosure forms. (Her latest Senate disclosure isn't yet public, so we don't yet know if the firm paid him anything last year.)
As best we can determine, this is one of only two companies with whom the ex-president has an ongoing, formal relationship.
..... The relationship between Bill Clinton and Vinod "Vin" Gupta, InfoUSA's CEO and chairman, is longstanding and deep.
A frequent donor to Bill's campaigns, Gupta stayed in the Lincoln Bedroom in the Clinton years. He admits donating $1 million to the Clinton Library and in 1999 gave $2 million for Hillary Clinton's Millennium New Year's Eve bash. He has raised over $200,000 for Hillary's Senate campaigns and given thousands to other Democratic funds.
Morris and McGann then provided an exhaustive list of Clinton-InfoUSA-Gupta connections.
Apparently the heat from the Morris-McGann Post column was too much for the Times political reporters to ignore, even as it pretended not to know of its existence. Instead, today's Times story by Mike McIntire ("Suit Sheds Light on Clintons’ Ties to a Benefactor") wraps itself around a shareholder lawsuit filed against InfoUSA late last year. It's also worth noting that someone at InfoUSA figured out how to respond to a political story in progress to defend the Clintons after ignoring so many attempts to contact them about one slamming the company in the Times' business pages (links within excerpt added by me):
The Clintons’ role in the shareholder suit has been largely overlooked even as the presidential race has heated up. The Deal, a business publication, said in a February article (link is to a search result; viewing article requires paid subscription. -- Ed.) about infoUSA that the lawsuit’s references to an unnamed “former high-ranking government official and his wife” appeared to describe Mr. and Mrs. Clinton.
Neither aides to the Clintons nor infoUSA disputed that the complaint referred to the Clintons.
..... The lawsuit says Mr. Clinton signed a consulting agreement in April 2002 to “provide confidential advice and counsel to the chairman and C.E.O. of the company for the purpose of strategic growth and business development.” InfoUSA made $2.1 million in quarterly payments to Mr. Clinton from July 2003 to April 2005, and in October 2005 entered into a new three-year agreement to pay him $1.2 million. It also gave him an option to buy 100,000 shares of infoUSA stock, with no expiration date (InfoUSA shares closed Friday at $10.50. -- Ed.).
The complaint asserts that the contracts with Mr. Clinton are “extremely vague” to the point of being wasteful.
..... (infoUSA CFO and 2002 Nebraska gubernatorial candidate Stormy) Dean said Mr. Clinton had no role in infoUSA’s data collection and distribution business, which was criticized by the authorities in Iowa who uncovered the questionable sales of call lists during an investigation of unscrupulous telemarketers in 2005.
The Times, as is its habit with Democrats in potentially damaging stories, did not name Mr. Dean's party affiliation.
It is odd indeed that Mr. Dean claimed no Bill Clinton connection to infoUSA's so-called "data collection and distribution business," and that the Times tried to limit its perceived size by focusing on activities in one state.
In fact, until late last year, all of infoUSA's business was "data collection and distribution." The company describes itself as follows:
(at page 1 of its most recent 10-K annual report) "info USA Inc. ..... is a leading provider of sales leads, mailing lists, direct marketing, database marketing, e-mail marketing and market research solutions to help our clients grow their sales and increase their profits."
(from Page 72 of the 10-K) "The info USA Group licenses its sales leads, mailing lists, databases, and other database marketing services to small and medium size businesses, entrepreneurs, professionals, and sales executives. This segment also includes the sale of subscription based products primarily from the Internet."
The Donnelley Group provides licensing of the info USA database, direct marketing services, database marketing services, e-mail marketing services, list brokerage and list management services, and online interactive marketing services to large businesses, i.e. businesses with 1,000 or more employees.
The Research Group was added in 2006 as a result of the acquisition of Opinion Research Corporation, on December 4, 2006. Opinion Research Corporation is a diversified market research company with two principal divisions. These divisions consist of Opinion Research and Macro International."
If former president Clinton really had no role in infoUSA's "data collection and distribution business," then it would appear that, until late last year, he should have had no role in InfoUSA at all.
A separate question that warrants a through vetting is why InfoUSA, led by "Friend of Bill" Gupta, went out and bought Opinion Research Corporation (ORC), a leading polling firm with a large government and business consulting subsidiary.
On January 12, 2007, a little more than a month after infoUSA acquired ORC, it established a very interesting relationship (link is to a PDF):
Opinion Research Corporation will become CNN’s new polling partner as the network moves toward the 2008 elections. Beginning in 2007, polls released by the network will be identified as CNN/Opinion Research Corporation surveys.
It's curious indeed that the Times could spend over 1,600 words covering the Clintons and InfoUSA without ever getting around to the possibility that Clinton-friendly CNN and its new partner appear to have the opportunity, and motivation, for manipulating its polling topics and results.
Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.