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 Nike Workers for originally pointing out the below relationship to Nonprofit Watch.)

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.

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 respected.

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 Kennedys

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 workers.

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 courage.

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 base." (3)


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.
4. MARGARET CRONIN FISK. Who Represents Corporate America: Things Are Looking Pretty Healthy In-House. National Law Journal , C-2. 6-14-1997.
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 . 4-21-1999.
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.