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Boardmember Spotlight: Jack Blum

Posted by Will Rice (will) on Nov 07 2011 at 12:32 PM
FALL 2011 >>

By John F. Heenehan

Jack Blum has fought many battles during a nearly half-century personal war on white collar crime.  And they were all worth it, he maintains, regardless of the outcome.

“I’ve lost many battles,” admitted Blum, ADA Board Member and General Counsel of the organization. “What counts is not whether you won or lost but who you are next to in the fight.” But don’t let him fool you: he’s won quite a few of those battles, too.

As an investigator with the Senate Antitrust and Monopoly Subcommittee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the 1970s, he played a central role in the Lockheed Aircraft bribery investigation, an international scandal that rattled 15 governments, toppling those in Italy and Japan.  “Some said I brought down more governments than Lenin,” Blum joked.

In the late ‘80s, Blum investigated the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI), which laundered money for the likes of Iraq dictator Saddam Hussein, Colombia’s Medellin drug cartel, and the CIA. BCCI was the seventh largest private bank in the world before it was shut down in 1991.

Blum fought these battles working for some of the U.S. Senate’s progressive giants, including Democrats Philip Hart (Mich.), Frank Church (Idaho), J. William Fulbright (Ark.), and John Kerry (Mass.).

Presenting an award to Blum at the annual ADA banquet in September, Kerry described how his former aide “risked his own safety” to crack the global BCCI scandal. Working for the senator’s narcotics and terrorism subcommittee, Blum was the first to “surface” Osama bin Laden’s name, when it showed up on the same bank account with international drug smugglers, Kerry said.

Blum has also fought alongside  ADA for more than 20 years, most of the time as its General Counsel.   “ADA fights for causes I believe in,” he explained. “It takes on a broad range of issues across a consistently liberal view of society, which very few organizations are prepared to do. Single-issue organizations don’t tend to deal with an across-the-board worldview.”

Blum’s own worldview was formed growing up in Elizabeth, N.J., a working class town of immigrants hit hard by the Great Depression. His father, a doctor, served in the Army during both world wars, while his mother taught high school math in Newark and, later, was a public health nurse.

After World War II, when Blum was still a young boy, the House Committee on Un-American Activities “began to attach teachers’ unions, intimidating people like my mother.” The fear inspired by the witch hunts of HUAAC and Sen. Joe McCarthy imbued in Blum the importance of freedom of expression.  “I never want to see my country [be one] where people are afraid of what they say,” he declared.

Blum earned his undergraduate degree from Bard College and his law degree from Columbia Law School.

Looking back on his career, he remains passionate about issues – but dispassionate about facts. “I fight as hard as I can for the best possible outcome,” Blum stated. “One should be passionate. Why not? But facts do matter. During my career, I always looked for ways to use facts to bring about change.”

John F. Heenehan is a communications professional.