For a working class, Depression-era kid from Brooklyn, N.Y., Bernard `Bernie' Schwartz has done quite well for himself.
As CEO of Loral Space and Satellites, the 71-year-old Schwartz is a leader in the world of satellite communications, with significant holdings in satellite manufacturing (Loral), broadcasting (Britain's Skynet and Mexico's Satmex), Internet linkage (Orion Network Systems) and global personal communications (Globalstar). His personal wealth is measured in the hundreds of millions of dollars, much of it coming from his sale in April 1996 of Loral's defense business.
As important, Schwartz is a friend of the president. In December 1996 alone, he celebrated his birthday with an intimate dinner with President Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton at the White House, was their guest at the Kennedy Center honors and shared a podium with Clinton at the Democratic Leadership Conference, the spawning ground for the Clinton revolution.
In March 1996, according to White House records, he got a perk that few others have recieved--dinner and a movie in the White House theater, along with a cast of celebrities to share popcorn: singer Billy Joel, baseball great Hank Aaron, actress Jennifer Jason Leigh, directors Ethan and Joel Coen, comedian Al Franken and political strategist Dick Morris.
All together, Schwartz was invited to 21 White House events during Clinton's first term.
And why not? Bernie Schwartz is the single biggest contributor to the Democratic Party in the Clinton era. A review of campaign finance databases by NBC News and the Center for Responsive Politics shows that between 1992 and 1998. Schwartz gave the Democratic Party $1,131,500 while he, his family, his companies, their political action committees and executives gave another $881,565 to Democratic candidates. Schwartz gave another $217,000 to the Democratic Leadership Conference. Schwartz and Loral gave $367,000 to the Republicans during that same period.
The man Mother Jones magazine called the orbiter of power, Schwartz has increased his contributions to the Democrats year by year. In the 1991-'92 campaign cycle, he gave $12,500; in 1993-'94, $112,000; in 1995-'96, $586,000, and in 1997-'98, $421,000. Schwartz was the single biggest donor in the 1996 and 1998 campaigns.
Schwartz has been dependent on a number of government programs and regulatory processes, including the export of communications satellites. In letters to the late Commerce Secretary Ron Brown in March and May of 1993, Schwartz laid out some of those businesses.
`Loral Corp. is the provider of [weather] satellites for the Department of Commerce's GOES program, `Schwartz wrote, in seeking a meeting with Brown, `In addition, there are other matters that would be of interest to Commerce in which Loral has a significant position, including the auction of radio frequencies and the exporting of highly advanced technical equipment, e.g., satellites and military hardware. Further, Loral is the principle [sic] supplier of satellites for Intelsat.'
When the two men's schedules didn't mesh in March or April, Schwartz wrote Brown again, noting, `We are affect [sic] by a number of general areas overseen by the Commerce Department. The Department's guidance in these areas will be meaningful.' Included in the list was Commerce's role in communications-satellite licensing.
Brown ultimately took Schwartz with him to China on a trade mission in August and September 1994. Schwartz was invited one month after he gave his first big contribution, $100,000, to the Democratic National Committee.
On that trip, Schwartz asked the Department to help set him up with officials of the Chinese military and space organizations.
A Loral spokesman initially said that Schwartz had never `talked business' with administration officials. But when confronted with the letters and other indications of meetings between Schwartz and Brown, the spokesman said any meetings were `routine and proper' and that Schwartz had always acted `scrupulously.'
To the question of whether the contributions were meant to help Loral with the various issues before the government, including satellite launches in China, the spokesman dismissed the idea as `ridiculous' and said there was `never' a time when Schwartz discussed any of this with the president.
`Bernie Schwartz is a Roosevelt Democrat who believes that Roosevelt saved his family,' the spokesman added, noting that he has been a longtime supporter of Clinton.