County Political Adviser Reportedly Lobbied for Noriega
Stuart K. Spencer, a prominent Republican political consultant from Orange County who is managing the campaign of GOP vice presidential nominee Dan Quayle, was hired by Panamanian strongman Manuel A. Noriega to lobby for him on a number of issues in 1985 and 1986, according to a published report.
The New Republic magazine said that Spencer’s consulting firm, Irvine-based Hecht, Spencer & Associates, was paid more than $350,000 for its work on behalf of Noriega to lobby Congress and the Reagan Administration on matters that included federal investigations of Panamanian involvement in the drug trade.
Reports that the firm has filed with the Justice Department’s foreign agents registration section show that Spencer and an associate, Bill Hecht, visited Panama in February, 1986, to meet with Noriega about his problems with the U.S. government, the magazine said. Spencer also reportedly made a second visit.
Spencer, who was not available for comment Thursday, works at Vice President George Bush’s election headquarters but has been assigned to work with Quayle, the junior senator from Indiana.
“I don’t know about those specific charges,” Quayle said at a press conference while campaigning in Little Rock, Ark., but he went on to praise Spencer’s prowess as a strategist: “He is a political pro.”
A longtime confidant of the First Family, Spencer ran Ronald Reagan’s first gubernatorial campaign in 1966 and helped plan strategy for his 1980 and ’84 presidential races.
The disclosure of Spencer’s role could be an embarrassment for Bush, who has bitterly attacked the international drug trade and has differed with other Administration officials in pressing for the U.S. government to pursue its federal indictments of Noriega.
Noriega, the de facto military ruler of Panama, was indicted last February by two Florida grand juries on charges that he conspired with Colombian drug traffickers to smuggle narcotics into the United States. Since then, the Administration has sought to topple Noriega from power and has offered to drop the charges if he voluntarily goes into exile. Bush, however, has distanced himself from such offers in his campaign speeches, declaring: “I won’t bargain with terrorists, and I won’t bargain with drug dealers either, whether on U.S. or foreign soil.”
Justice Department records cited by the New Republic indicate that Spencer’s contract to represent Noriega ran out in November, 1986, 15 months before Noriega’s indictment. For its representation, Spencer’s firm reportedly collected $299,923 in fees and $59,704 in expenses.
The magazine said Spencer’s contract began in the fall of 1985, shortly after the murder of Hugo Spadafora, a prominent Panamanian dissident who had openly accused Noriega of complicity in the drug trade. One of Spencer’s tasks was to head off a resolution introduced by Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) calling for an investigation of Noriega’s alleged drug dealings, according to the report.
Col. Roberto Diaz Herrera, Noriega’s former chief of staff now in exile in Venezuela, was quoted as saying that Noriega felt Spencer was “someone very close to Reagan . . . who could effectively sell Noriega’s image to Reagan.”