Robert Mosbacher dies at 82; Commerce secretary under President George H.W. Bush
Robert Mosbacher, who served as U.S. Commerce secretary under his close friend, President George H.W. Bush, and helped lay the foundation for the North American Free Trade Agreement, has died. He was 82.
Mosbacher died Sunday in Houston after a yearlong fight with pancreatic cancer, family spokesman Jim McGrath said.
Mosbacher, a Texas oilman, was a powerful Republican fundraiser who served at the top echelons of Bush's presidential campaigns and most recently was a general campaign chairman for Sen. John McCain's 2008 GOP presidential race.
"Together we shared a journey that led to the presidency, the mountaintop of American politics, and there we worked together to help America more fully embrace the world around us and compete in the newly emerging global markets that the waning Cold War made accessible," Bush said in a statement.
Mosbacher oversaw early negotiations with Mexico that led, in 1994, to the signing of the U.S.-Canada-Mexico trade accord known as NAFTA. He also helped lead Bush's 1992 trade mission to Asia that sought, with minimal success, to get Japan to increase its purchases of American automobiles and auto parts.
At the Commerce Department from 1989 to 1992, Mosbacher refused entreaties to adjust the 1990 U.S. census to account for people who were missed or counted twice. Several lawsuits challenged Mosbacher's decision, which was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Mosbacher had been chief fundraiser for Bush's winning 1988 presidential campaign. He left his Commerce post to serve as chairman of Bush's 1992 reelection campaign, which he lost to Bill Clinton. Mosbacher gave up that title in August 1992, to become chief fundraiser for the Republican National Committee.
"He always provided candor, intelligence and a special sense of joy for life that was Texas-sized in its grandness," former secretary of state and longtime Bush aide James Baker III said in a statement.
Mosbacher was the longtime chairman of the family company he founded, Mosbacher Energy Co.
Robert Adam Mosbacher was born March 11, 1927, in Mount Vernon, N.Y., one of three children of Emil and Gertrude Mosbacher. His father was a Wall Street stockbroker who built oil, natural gas and real-estate holdings and pulled his money out of the stock market shortly before it crashed in 1929.
Robert Mosbacher was inculcated with his family's passion for sailing, winning competitions on Long Island Sound in 1939, 1941 and 1942 on his way to becoming a world-class sailor. His brother, Emil Jr., led the U.S. to an America's Cup championship in 1962.
After graduating in 1947 with a bachelor's degree in business administration from Washington and Lee University, Mosbacher moved to Houston to manage his father's oil and gas holdings. He built a fortune through energy exploration and production and became friends with Bush, another scion of Eastern privilege who moved west to go into the energy business.
Mosbacher raised money for Bush's losing Senate campaign in 1970. He was a top fundraiser for the presidential campaigns of Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, and he became a fixture of Houston society after his marriage to his third wife, Georgette, in 1985.
Bush named Mosbacher to lead the Commerce Department as the U.S. and Canada were completing plans for a free-trade agreement. According to the New York Times, he became the first Bush administration official to openly discuss the possibility that Mexico would join what would become NAFTA. At a hearing of the Senate Banking Committee in October 1989, Mosbacher said of Mexico's leaders, "We should not try to push them too fast, too hard, but they are interested, extremely interested, in moving toward this -- they want to take it a step at a time."
His defense of the census' validity was supported by a Supreme Court ruling six years later. The court said the federal government had no constitutional obligation to adjust the results to reflect the widely acknowledged undercounting of minorities and residents of big cities. Mosbacher said the use of statistical adjustments would amount to "political tampering." L.A. Mayor Tom Bradley in 1991 called the census "gravely defective."
Mosbacher had four children with his first wife, Jane, who died of leukemia in 1970. His second and third marriages ended in divorce. In 2000 he married Michele McCutchen, who survives him.