State Rep. Says General Electric Told Him to Lie About Ex-Im Bank

Wisconsin legislator says GE exec told him to falsely blame plant closure on Congress

General Electric

General Electric plant in Belfort, eastern France / AP

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A General Electric employee pressed a Wisconsin legislator to falsely blame the closing of a facility there on the expiration of federal subsidies, the legislator said this week.

State Rep. Scott Allen said in a Monday statement that GE government relations executive Patrick Theisen asked Allen to blame the closing of a Waukesha engine manufacturing facility on the recent expiration of the U.S. Export-Import Bank.

"Mr. Theisen was eager to connect me with his public relations department to help me gin up a press release blaming Congress and demanding they act," Allen said.

According to the Republican legislator, who represents portions of Waukesha and other suburbs west of Milwaukee, Theisen admitted that that explanation was a lie.

"In the same conversation, practically in the same breath, he told me that the decision on the Waukesha plant was made some time ago and that it was irreversible," according to Allen.

GE did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Allen’s allegations. The company has been pressing Congress to revive the Ex-Im Bank, which financed the purchases of U.S. goods by foreign governments and corporations.

Ex-Im expired this month after Congress declined to reauthorize its funding. GE is one of the largest-ever recipients of Ex-Im subsidies, which generally come in the form of loan guarantees or direct financing.

Critics pointed to Allen’s statement as evidence of a pattern of deception by GE designed to increase political pressure on Congress to reauthorize the bank.

"I have seen corporations engaged in political bullying before, but GE takes the cake," said Veronique de Rugy, a senior fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University and a prominent Ex-Im critic, in a Wednesday email.

"After spending months and millions of dollars lobbying Congress to prevent the Ex-Im Bank’s charter to expire, the company’s top executives are now constantly and blatantly attempting to pass business decisions that were made independently of the Bank’s closure on the loss of its export subsidies," de Rugy said.

GE has come under fire from de Rugy and others for additional statements on Ex-Im’s expiration that they say are misleading.

When the company struck a deal with Britain’s export finance agency last week, potentially resulting in 1,000 jobs in the country, it was portrayed as a result of Ex-Im expiration. However, a GE spokesman told Reuters the company would likely have made the move regardless of the availability of U.S. financing.

When GE announced earlier this month that it was moving hundreds of jobs to France due to Ex-Im expiration, critics pointed out that the project in question was already in the works last year.

"This is political," de Rugy said of the company’s messaging. "Through this fight, GE is asserting is power over Congress for its Ex-Im subsidies and all other handouts it receives from our government."

Update 11:15 A.M.: After publication, GE spokeswoman Meghan Thurlow denied that the company had asked Allen to misrepresent the nature of its move.

"Scott Allen clearly misunderstood our announcement," she said in an emailed statement. "We contacted a range of Wisconsin officials from both parties about this news and there was no confusion. This is a hard decision, but one we were forced to make in order to continue serving customers who require export credit financing."

Lachlan Markay   Email | Full Bio | RSS
Lachlan Markay is a staff writer for the Washington Free Beacon. He comes to the Beacon from the Heritage Foundation, where he was the conservative think tank's first investigative reporter. He graduated from Hamilton College in 2009, and currently lives in Washington, D.C. His Twitter handle is @lachlan. His email address is markay@freebeacon.com.