Six weeks after Cintas Corp. Chairman Richard T. Farmer co-hosted a $1.7 million fundraiser for George W. Bush in Cincinnati, Bush’s Environmental Protection Agency proposed exempting industrial laundries like Cintas from rules that protect workers from handling poisonous materials. The EPA says the rules could “save affected facilities over $30 million per year.”

On November 20, 2003, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released new draft regulations that, if adopted, will weaken federal safeguards for employees who handle poison-soaked “shop” towels. The new rule would exempt industrial laundries like Cintas “from federal hazardous and solid waste requirements for shop towels contaminated with toxic chemicals.”

It is not a small exemption. Each year, 3.8 billion industrial shop towels, which are used to clean up toxic materials or spills in the workplace, or to “wipe-down” machinery, are sent to be cleaned.

Cintas has been found to have repeatedly violated worker safety and environmental protection standards. “We were never told about all the chemicals we were forced to handle, and never really warned about the toxic dangers from these chemicals. The towels were often in plastic bags dripping with solvent. Our supervisors knew all about this,” said Mark Fragola, of New Haven, Conn., a former driver for Cintas Corp.

The EPA predicts “this proposal would … save affected facilities over $30 million per year.”

For the record, Cintas and Farmer are already doing quite well. Cintas made $249.3 million in profits in fiscal year 2003 and Farmer is ranked by Forbes as the 140th wealthiest man in America with a net worth of $1.5 billion.

The EPA proposal was released just weeks after Farmer co-hosted a $1.7 million fundraiser for President Bush on Sept. 30, 2003.

Farmer is a “Ranger,” meaning that he has personally raised more than $200,000 for the president’s re-election campaign. In addition, Farmer was instrumental in George W. Bush’s 2000 campaign. Not only was he a “Pioneer” in 2000 (having pledged to raise $100,000), Farmer and his wife gave the second most of any family to the Republican Party in 2000.

Since the 2000 election cycle, Cintas and its employees have given almost $2.2 million to federal candidates and parties, with 100 percent of that money going to Republicans. So far this election cycle, in addition to Farmer, 15 Cintas executives have contributed to Bush, with eight of them giving the maximum $2,000 contribution.

Of course, Farmer sees nothing wrong. He told the Cincinnati Enquirer in 1997, “I don’t expect any special treatment when I give my money. All I want is decent government.”

From Cintas Corp.’s point of view, decent government is one that rewrites environmental law to increase their profits, and one that gives them big government contracts. In addition to the EPA draft regulation, Cintas, as the nation’s largest launderer, would likely to have been in line to receive a contract for laundry services from the Department of Veterans Affairs, if the VA had proceeded with plans to privatize laundry services at facilities around the U.S. But the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents 600,000 federal workers, sent a “cease and desist” letter telling the VA that contracting out the services would be in violation of federal law.

Farmer wasn’t an innocent bystander. He served on Bush’s Veterans Affairs transition team.

Will Cintas get its way? The have a long history of bullying and silencing their opponents. They have sued UNITE, a labor union, for defamation, and sued a shareholder activist to silence his efforts to bring forth shareholder resolutions about Cintas’ labor conditions.

Reprinted with permission from Campaign Money Watch.