DETROIT: General Motors has responded to charges that a PR firm working on its behalf tried to bribe former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, saying the entire episode was a "misunderstanding."
In a commentary on public radio on April 19, Reich said that one of GM's PR agencies--later revealed to be Strauss Radio Strategies-- contacted him and asked him to support the company's proposed employee buyback program.
"GM's PR firm said they'd offer me money if I did this, as a show of respect," Reich said. "I told them I'd look at the deal and make up my own mind, and I told them to keep the money."
He went on to call the move "wrong," and expressed concern that pay-for-play tactics might be widespread in the world of corporate PR.
Steve Harris, GM's VP of global communications, said that the initial outreach to Reich was part of an ongoing campaign to gather support from experts for the company's "accelerated attrition plan," which is being pushed by GM, Delphi, and the UAW. "The attempt was to have these [experts] say whatever it is they wanted to say" and help them place their opinions in letters, TV and radio interviews, op-eds and other platforms, Harris said.
"It always was, always would be a non-paid situation," he added.
Strauss was handling the radio portion of the program for GM. Agency President Richard Strauss did not return several phone calls seeking comment over the course of several days.
Harris said that Reich misunderstood what Strauss was trying to ask him to do when he was initially contacted.
"It was obviously unintentional," he said. "We have reaffirmed with him that absolutely no payment was ever intended to be involved or should be involved, and obviously if someone wants payment, they're not somebody we're interested in dealing with."
Reich, who is now a professor at the University of California at Berkeley, could not be reached for comment before press time.
Harris said the incident would not affect GM's relationship with Strauss.