Meet the Man Who Sends Congress to China

Richard Quick’s low profile belies his influence. Wal-Mart, Microsoft, GM and other corporate giants pay him to show off their Asian interests to lawmakers.

 A general view of the Great Wall on December 3, 2006 in Beijing, China.
National Journal
Shane Goldmacher
Add to Briefcase
Shane Goldmacher
Jan. 30, 2014, midnight

The U.S.-Asia Found­a­tion does not have a web­site. It doesn’t need one.

Word of its trips to China spreads like wild­fire from con­gres­sion­al of­fice to of­fice, over lunch at Long­worth cafet­er­ia and cof­fee at the Can­non carry­out. There are whis­pers of trekking on the Great Wall, lux­ury stays at the Ritz, and, of course, the price ““ free.

For more than two dec­ades, Richard G. Quick has led a non­profit that has raised big bucks from big busi­nesses to take the na­tion’s lead­ers to Asia. For just as long, he’s provided the cor­por­a­tions bank­rolling his op­er­a­tions, and some­times their lob­by­ists, a spe­cial spot on the it­in­er­ary.

Mi­crosoft, Wal-Mart, Gen­er­al Mo­tors, Phil­lip Mor­ris, UPS ““ all among Amer­ica’s biggest com­pan­ies and all have been among Quick’s cor­por­ate back­ers. He has helmed the or­gan­iz­a­tion through four pres­id­en­tial ad­min­is­tra­tions, three name changes, and one huge crack­down on con­gres­sion­al travel in the wake the Jack Ab­ramoff in­flu­ence-ped­dling scan­dal.

“We’ve evolved,” Quick said.

Quick, a 71-year old re­tired bri­gadier gen­er­al in the Army Re­serve, said open­ing the door for law­makers and their aides to China is cru­cial “be­cause of the tre­mend­ous eco­nom­ic and geo­pol­it­ic­al in­terest this coun­try has” there.

He said he’s car­ry­ing for­ward the vis­ion of the non­profit’s founders, former Sen­ate Minor­ity Lead­er Hugh Scott, a Re­pub­lic­an Quick worked for in the 1970s, and former Demo­crat­ic Rep. Thomas Mor­gan, who once chaired the in­ter­na­tion­al re­la­tions com­mit­tee. The ori­gin­al goal was to make the Far East closer than ever for con­gres­sion­al chief­tains and their aides who wanted a first-hand look. “At the time, there really wer­en’t many groups that fo­cused on Asia,” he said.

It has worked. Dozens of law­makers and hun­dreds of con­gres­sion­al aides (some of whom later be­came law­makers) have gone on Quick-or­gan­ized voy­ages, in­clud­ing about 50 staffers in 2013.

Yet even after more than two dec­ades in busi­ness, Quick is little known in much of the Cap­it­ol, and barely a blip bey­ond. But that low pro­file be­lies his in­flu­ence. His found­a­tion has helped shape the world­view of a gen­er­a­tion of Cap­it­ol Hill poli­cy­makers.

Throughout, his mod­us op­erandi has stayed con­sist­ent: col­lect cor­por­ate cash in ex­change for con­gres­sion­al ac­cess abroad.

To­bacco in­dustry memos, archived by the Uni­versity of Cali­for­nia at San Fran­cisco, out­line the pay-to-play ar­range­ments dat­ing back to the early 1990s. “As a cor­por­ate spon­sor, I look for­ward to join­ing this year’s ag­ri­cul­tur­al and to­bacco trade del­eg­a­tion to China,” a seni­or Phil­lip Mor­ris of­fi­cial, Gregory Scott, wrote to Quick in 1994. The let­ter was ac­com­pan­ied by a $15,000 check. A $25,000 dues check fol­lowed for 1995.

Quick’s trips have flown mostly un­der the polit­ic­al radar. But a Decem­ber 1996 jaunt to Burma for top House Re­pub­lic­ans, in­clud­ing Tom DeLay and Den­nis Hastert, was an ex­cep­tion. The trip came amid the threat of U.S. sanc­tions and in­cluded a tour of a re­mote re­gion where oil com­pany Un­ocal was build­ing a pipeline that sanc­tions would have hampered. Un­ocal was then a cor­por­ate sup­port­er of the found­a­tion.

Quick said at the time that the trip’s agenda was de­term­ined for the law­makers. “If that co­in­cides with the in­terests of one of the con­trib­ut­ors, so be it,” he told the As­so­ci­ated Press.

A 2003 trip to China also drew some at­ten­tion. The St. Louis Post-Dis­patch re­por­ted it in­cludes “some 40 lob­by­ists” for UPS, a cor­por­ate donor, and a hand­ful of con­gress­men build­ing a com­puter lab. “They would ac­tu­ally take off the suits and ties and put on their work clothes and par­ti­cip­ate in build­ing,” Quick re­called to Na­tion­al Journ­al, com­par­ing it to Hab­it­at for Hu­man­ity. “They’re not there to lobby. They’re there to build that build­ing.”

Dav­id Bol­ger, a UPS spokes­man, told the Post-Dis­patch at the time, “We want to take the op­por­tun­ity, while we’re nail­ing down ply­wood with a mem­ber of Con­gress, to say you may not have known this [about UPS].”

When the found­a­tion first began, it paid for the trips it­self ““ and touted the fact that it in­volved no for­eign money. Today, it’s the ex­act op­pos­ite. The found­a­tion’s con­gres­sion­al del­eg­a­tions, which in re­cent years have gone ex­clus­ively to China, are cur­rently paid for by the People’s Re­pub­lic of China. Quick and his team serve as in­ter­me­di­ar­ies on Cap­it­ol Hill that ar­range the ex­cur­sions.

Why the flip? “That’s primar­ily a res­ult of how they changed the rules on Cap­it­ol Hill,” Quick ex­plained.

The 2007 tight­en­ing of con­gres­sion­al travel rules after the Ab­ramoff scan­dal barred non­profits from pay­ing for trips that fea­tured lob­by­ists, as Quick’s did. But a loop­hole in a 1961 “cul­tur­al ex­change” law lets lob­by­ists and their em­ploy­ers stay in­volved if it’s a coun­try, not a com­pany or non­profit, that picks up the bill.

That means Beijing pays the travel costs for law­makers and their aides. And Quick’s cor­por­ate spon­sors pay his found­a­tion’s op­er­at­ing costs, in­clud­ing the $150,000 salar­ies of Quick and his wife, the ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or, in ex­change for see­ing their in­terests re­flec­ted on con­gres­sion­al travel it­in­er­ar­ies. The couple’s salar­ies made up a ma­jor­ity of the non­profit’s spend­ing in 2012, the most re­cent taxes avail­able.

“You don’t have to be a sup­port­er of our found­a­tion to vis­it your fa­cil­ity,” Quick said. But it helps. “Oh ab­so­lutely, it makes it a lot easi­er for us.”

A 2012 trip to China for two Demo­crat­ic con­gress­men, Jim Math­eson of Utah and Kurt Schrader of Ore­gon, in­cluded stops at a Wal­mart store in Beijing, a Mi­crosoft re­search of­fice, and a Gen­er­al Mo­tors fa­cil­ity. All three com­pan­ies have been found­a­tion sup­port­ers. A lob­by­ist for Mi­crosoft joined the law­makers for the trip, ac­cord­ing to a par­ti­cipant.

The law­makers they had spe­cific­ally re­ques­ted to vis­it Amer­ic­an busi­nesses on the trip “to bet­ter un­der­stand the hurdles we face with com­pet­it­ive­ness,” Math­eson said in an email. 

Wal-Mart stores, in fact, have been a fix­ture on Quick’s China tours. Past par­ti­cipants say del­eg­a­tions are typ­ic­ally greeted by com­pany em­ploy­ees who sing aloud a Wal-Mart song.

Wal-Mart and Mi­crosoft de­clined com­ment. GM in a state­ment said that the trips help “edu­cate law­makers and staff on how a glob­al auto man­u­fac­turer com­petes in the world’s largest auto mar­ket; for us this is a smart busi­ness prac­tice.”

Quick’s found­a­tion is one of four that brings con­gres­sion­al staff to China through the “cul­tur­al ex­change” law. But not all the non­profits have so clear a link between cor­por­ate con­trib­ut­ors and the agenda while abroad.

The U.S.-Asia In­sti­tute, for in­stance, doesn’t al­low its cor­por­ate spon­sors or their lob­by­ists any role in plan­ning or ac­com­pa­ny­ing trips, said Kent Luck­en, the in­sti­tute’s pres­id­ent. Luck­en said he would sup­port stricter dis­clos­ure re­quire­ments ““ both of non­profit’s donors and the names of all travel at­tendees ““ for those who or­gan­ize over­seas con­gres­sion­al mis­sions. Cur­rently, neither donors nor trip at­tendees are dis­closed.

Quick said he un­der­stood there could be wor­ries about the links between cor­por­ate lob­by­ists and the poli­cy­makers on his trips. “I think the pub­lic has a right to be con­cerned about everything,” he said. But he stressed that his or­gan­iz­a­tion is non­par­tis­an and doesn’t lobby, and that any lob­by­ists who do come along bring ex­pert­ise that is be­ne­fi­cial.

“It just so hap­pens,” he said, “that these re­gistered lob­by­ists, for GM or Mi­crosoft or whomever, are very know­ledge­able about what’s go­ing on in China.”

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