The Kennedys Linked to Nike's Upper Management: Former Nike President and Current
Vice-Chair of Nike is Kennedy Family Insider
(Thanks to activist Jeff Ballinger of Press for Change and
for originally pointing out the below relationship to Nonprofit
Previously Nonprofit Watch reported that Nike funded the Robert
F. Kennedy Memorial, a nonprofit that serves on the board of the
Fair Labor Association, an entity which has been under attack
for supporting a weak agenda to address sweatshops. Below Nonprofit
Watch examines another close tie between the Kennedy clan and
Nike Needs a Lawyer
Nike has long been lambasted for its sweatshops in foreign
countries. If there were an international criminal court, Nike
would need a skilled lawyer to face charges for mistreatment of
its workers -- long hours, poor pay, toxic chemical exposures
and more. Moreover, the company's operations have been to the
benefit of foreign despots -- directly through revenues lining
the pockets of military dictatorships and indirectly through lobbying
for U.S. foreign policy favorable to overseas high-profit facilities
in lands ruled by tyrants like Suharto.
Nike Has a Lawyer and He's a Profile in
Courage-- He's Facing Potential Criminal Charges
In fact, Nike has a lawyer whose ably helped the company abroad.
Donahue has been a director of Nike for 23 years, President and
Chief Operating Officer of Nike between 1990 and 1994, and is
currently vice-chairman of Nike according to Nike's
1999 Securities and Exchange proxy statement.
Donahue has commented that "If it weren't for JFK, I probably
wouldn't be associated with Nike at all."(1) The Washington
connections he had developed working for John F. Kennedy (as described
below) helped Donahue be of service to Nike. In the late 70's,
the then small company was looking for someone who could assist
in Washington D.C. to deal with government problems, especially
high customs fees that the U.S. Customs Service was imposing upon
Nike. Donahue became Nike's man for the job, and his work led
to a close relationship with Nike CEO Phil Knight.
In regards to becoming president of Nike, Donahue commented
that, ''I have worked everywhere from the White House down. This
job is the only thing that has impressed my kids.''(2)
He also described himself as a liberal and lifetime Democrat,
commenting that ''I happen to be chairman of the Individual Rights
and Responsibilities Committee for the National Bar Association,
which is about as liberal as that group gets."(2)
Obviously his liberalism does not extend to observing that the
"individual rights" of Nike's foreign employees are
The Nike announcement of Donahue's appointment noted that "in
the past three years, in particular, Donahue has reduced the time
devoted to his law practice in order to direct Nike's expansion
internationally." It would seem that Donahue has the abuses
of Nike's foreign sweatshops on his hands. (3)
In 1997 the National Law Journal listed Donahue's law
firm Donahue and Donahue amongst law firms used by Nike.(4)
This means that in addition to direct income and stock options
from Nike, Donahue made more money through providing his firm's
legal services to Nike. (Interestingly, Stoel and Rives was also
a Nike law firm. Name partner Thomas B. Stoel, Esq. is an honorary trustee
of the Natural Resources Defense Council(NRDC), the environmental
group with which Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is closely associated.
Beneficial to sweatshop and other corporate globalizers, NRDC
supported the North American Free Trade Agreement(NAFTA) and later
took no stance in a contentious Congressional fight over Fast
Track Trade Authority for the president.)
Currently Donahue as well as another prominent Massachusetts
attorney Gary Crossen are under risk of prosecution for a scheme
that the FBI has termed "a criminal assault on the judicial
process . . . [for] orchestrating an extortion scheme to discredit
the judge who handed the Demoulas supermarket fortune to their
clients' rival relatives."(5) The schemed involved
attempting to obtain dirt on the judge from a former law clerk
by setting up for the clerk fake job interviews at which Donahue
and Crossen tried to elicit information damaging to the judge.
Additionally, the former clerk has charged that Donahue and his
crony threatened to ruin the clerk's career. Apparently, "two
Justice Department committees in Washington have urged prosecution,"
and as of March 2000 the matter was before Deputy Attorney General
Eric Holder to decide whether to prosecute. For his defense, Donahue
has recruited premier Washington lawyer Plato Cacheris who came
to national attention for his representation of Monica Lewinsky.(6)
Other high profile clients of Cacheris have included Fawn Hall
of Iran-Contra infamy and former Attorney General John Mitchell
of the Watergate scandal.
Nike's Lawyer has Important Friends -- The
Nike's Vice-Chairman Donahue served from "from 1961 to
1963 [as] an assistant to President John F. Kennedy" and
currently "is a member of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation,"
according to Nike's
1999 Securities and Exchange proxy statement.
Donahue is widely described in newspaper articles as a Kennedy
family insider -- "a close adviser to the Kennedy family,"
a "Kennedy family confidant;" and "a Kennedy family
ally for 40 years." He was a staffer for John F. Kennedy
in Congress, the Senate and later the Presidency where he was
a special assistant to the President and Kennedy's Congressional
Liaison.(1,7) He has long been a board member of
the John F. Kennedy Library.(3)
In 1980 he headed Senator Kennedy's presidential campaign operation
in New York state.(8) In regards to the campaign's hopes
of winning the votes of urban blue-collar voters, Donahue commented
that, "These are the people that Kennedy has been speaking
for all these years. They are concerned with the real issues .
. ." -- an ironic statement coming from a man who has been
involved in placing manufacturing jobs abroad and exploiting foreign
In 1990 he was the first chair of the Profile in Courage Award
Committee of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation. (7)
It would seem that if the current generation of Kennedys were
truly courageous, they would not tolerate folks like Donahue on
their award committee and library board but instead would be challenging
the sweatshop interests that he represents.
As apparent from the above, Nike's Donahue and the Kennedys
are deeply intertwined. In light of the lengthy service that Donahue
has provided to the Kennedy's, the question arises of whether
the Kennedys, in particular the Robert F. Kennedy wing of the
family, are providing a service to Donahue and Nike by the involvement
of the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial with the Apparel Industry Partnership
and the Fair Labor Association?
Nonprofit Watch Commentary Regarding Donahue
and the Kennedys
For the Kennedy family to be so closely tied to a leading player
in the Nike company presents yet another serious conflict of interest
for the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial to address sweatshop issues.
In fact the Memorial is involved in supporting a sweatshop agenda
that has been widely criticized by grassroots activists and that
is currently the source of contentious disputes between university
students and campus administrations. During the 80's the Kennedys
were on the same side with the students in the battle to pressure
colleges to divest from stock in companies operating in South
Africa; now in regards to sweatshop matters the Kennedy's are
in cahoots with the corporations and the university presidents.
Nonprofit Watch can find no citations where "human rights
activist" Kerry Kennedy has ever spoken out against the company.
While a search of whether other Kennedys have ever taken the company
to task has not been carried out, Nonprofit Watch has come across
nothing to suggest that others of the Kennedy clan have dared
to criticize Nike. This would make sense in that Kerry and the
other Kennedys would not want to offend this close family friend
who is also an executive with a company that funds the Robert
F. Kennedy (RFK) Memorial. Coupled with Nonprofit Watch's previous
analysis of the RFK Memorial, this briefing challenges the Kennedys
charitable and do-gooder reputation as constrained by special
interests. The Kennedys often associate themselves with symbols
of caring for issues affecting working people, so the family's
ties to Nike are especially troubling. Nike's operations have
been carried out at the expense of U.S. jobs and with poor and
miserly treatment of workers abroad; for the Kennedys to have
long been silent regarding Nike raises serious doubts about the
integrity of their much espoused "liberalism."
Now there certainly can exist situations where individuals
act courageously in spite of possible embarrassment to those close
to them, as in the case of John Passacantando of Ozone Action
who repeatedly criticizes the Clinton administration on its global
warming policy in spite of the fact that his wife is deputy assistant
secretary for policy and international affairs at the U.S. Department
of the Interior, a matter recently noted in Salon.
However with Kerry Kennedy and the RFK Memorial we find no such
Other Donahue Quotes That Amuse in Light
of Nike's Sweatshop Operations
"I'm excited about what has been happening with the company.
I've decided I have to get deeper involved now that the business
is burgeoning." (9)
"As president and chief operating officer, my goal is
to shoulder enough responsibility to allow Nike Inc. to continue
to move forward as aggressively as we have in the past several
years. Some companies would simply fan the flames of their success.
At Nike, we plan to pour gasoline on them." (3)
"Nike is poised to be as universally recognized and respected
as Disney or Coca-Cola. We aspire to the integrity and credibility
of those companies. We can get there by maintaining our commitment
to authentic athletic products and by building our management
1. Tedeschi, Mark. Nike's Donahue just does
it; Richard Donahue, president and chief operating officer of
Nike Inc. Footwear News (47:7), S-11. 2-18-1991.
2. New President of Nike Plans to Turn Up Burner. New York Times
, D-3. 6-20-1990.
3. NIKE INC. ANNOUNCES NEW PRESIDENT, CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER.
PR Newswire . 6-18-1990.
4. MARGARET CRONIN FISK. Who Represents Corporate America: Things
Are Looking Pretty Healthy In-House. National Law Journal , C-2.
5. Judy Rakowsky. DECISION ON LAWYERS LOOMING AT JUSTICE. Boston
Globe , B-4. 3-15-2000.
6. Ralph Ranalli. Ex-Nike head hires Monica's lawyer. Boston Herald
7. FORMER CONGRESSMAN WINS FIRST JOHN F. KENNEDY PROFILE IN COURAGE
AWARD. PR Newswire . 5-23-1990.
8. TOM MORGANTHAU, JOHN WALCOTT, and JAMES DOYLE. Last Chance
for Kennedy. Newsweek , 36. 3-10-1980.
9. Rottman, Meg. Nike names Donahue prexy; 2:1 split set. Footwear
News (46:26), 1. 6-25-1990.