The Washington Insider
For the past 34 years, Stanton D. Anderson JD’69 has been a key player in national political affairs and one of the who’s who of Republican politics. While many of his peers were just starting their careers, Anderson, executive vice president and chief legal officer for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, was working at the White House as a staff assistant to President Richard M. Nixon.
“I was the No. 2 guy in White House personnel operations,” Anderson said, “responsible for staffing for the president. At the time there were thousands of appointments to be made.” Anderson said he spent much of his time preparing decision memos recommending candidates for appointment. “It was my responsibility to write memos to the president explaining who a person was,” he explained. “The memos had lots of white space so the president could write notes about the candidates. After sending him memos for a lot of guys from big-name schools, I got one back that said, ‘No more Ivy Leaguers. Get me more guys like you.’”
The adopted son of a Baptist minister, Anderson spent his early childhood in Salem, Ore. After earning his undergraduate degree in business and economics from Westmont College in Santa Barbara, Calif., Anderson worked for a management consulting company in San Francisco and a trade association in Washington, D.C. After the trade association, he became national director of the Young Republicans Association. In 1966, he returned to Salem to run for Congress. “I dropped out of the campaign after about a year,” he said. “I just didn’t like retail politics – dealing with voters.”
Having ended his bid for office, Anderson found himself in Salem with no clear career path, but a sustained interest in politics. Despite being raised near Willamette University, Anderson said his enrollment in the College of Law was “purely accidental.” A close friend of his had enrolled in the law school, so Anderson decided to follow along. Anderson said he enjoyed his first year at the college, but was convinced he had not done well on his exams. Without waiting for his test scores, Anderson dropped out of school and took a job with the local telephone company.
“I never thought about law school again,” he said. “Then, about the time grades came out, I was driving by Willamette with my wife. We got stopped by a train right in front of the law school, so my wife told me to go get my grades. I didn’t want to look at them because I thought I had done very poorly. When I finally did, I realized I was ranked third in my class. I had to petition to get back into school.”
Anderson completed his law degree on schedule, graduating from the College of Law in 1969. Immediately afterward, he headed to Washington. Once there, he took a job in the Nixon White House. Anderson said the job proved instrumental in teaching him the ins and outs of big league politics. “I learned how all the pieces of the government fit together,” he explained.
That education paid off in 1973 when he was appointed deputy assistant secretary of state for congressional relations under Henry Kissinger. Anderson served as a critical liaison between the U.S. Department of State and Congress. “In those days, Congress was just beginning to become involved in foreign policy,” he explained. “Now, obviously, Congress is more active in those matters. But this was before – around the time of the Vietnam War.”
As the White House turned into a hotbed of controversy, Anderson decided to take a break from politics. In 1975 he joined the Washington, D.C., firm of Surrey & Morse as an associate attorney; he made partner two years later. Anderson left the firm in 1980 when he was asked to serve on Ronald Reagan’s presidential campaign staff. “As deputy political counsel, I helped run conventions and deal with business issues of the campaign,” he said. “I dealt with a wide range of general campaign issues.” The day after Reagan won the election, Anderson was tapped to work on his transition committee.
When President Reagan took office in January 1981, Anderson embarked on a new career as well. He and two colleagues started their own law firm, Anderson Hibey & Blair. Despite working in private practice, Anderson remained firmly footed in Washington politics. “The firm was principally involved in representing clients with issues they had before the federal government,” he said. “We helped them solve problems related to different government offices.”
Throughout the next 15 years Anderson represented a number of famous clients. None, however, was as infamous as Ferdinand Marcos. Anderson worked as the personal attorney for Marcos and his wife, Imelda, from the time the former president of the Philippines was driven into exile in 1986 until his death three years later. Marcos, who was suspected of looting billions of dollars from the Filipino treasury, was indicted for embezzlement by a U.S. court. “It was very interesting work,” Anderson said, “determining whether he should stay in the U.S. or leave, determining what, if anything, he was guilty of.” A year after Marcos’ death, his wife was acquitted of all charges.
In 1995 Anderson chose to dissolve his firm and become a partner in McDermott Will & Emery. Anderson heads up the firm’s Government Strategies Group, advising clients on their government affairs. In addition to his role at McDermott, Anderson is executive vice president and chief legal officer for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the world’s largest business federation and a major client of his firm. Anderson leads the Chamber’s legal reform efforts and defense of business interests in the courts. “I had represented the head of the Chamber as his personal lawyer,” he explained. “When the Chamber got involved in legal reform, they hired me to work on key projects.”
Of the many cases and projects Anderson has tackled in his 34 years in Washington, he is most proud of his work on the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005. The Act grants federal courts jurisdiction over certain civil actions when the amount in question exceeds $5 million. “It is the first piece of important legal reform in 15 years,” Anderson said. “The Act makes it more difficult for the trial bar to file frivolous class action cases, and it gets you before higher caliber judges. It’s a way to get out of ‘home cooking’ – so corporations get fairer treatment.”
Anderson believes his success in Washington has had a little to do with confidence and a lot to do with luck. “Having good friends in the right places can be as equally important as any education you receive,” he noted. Despite having moved to the nation’s capital straight out of law school at Willamette, Anderson said he has never felt out of place in Washington. “I got a good education at Willamette,” he said. “In my work, I’m dealing every day with guys from Harvard and Yale. Most people might have an inferiority complex about that, but not me. I’ve always felt well prepared and never took a back seat to guys from bigger name schools. I think the breadth of education at Willamette is better than at many Eastern schools. You’re better prepared to deal with a wide range of issues.”
Photo by Ian Wagreich; copyright © U.S. Chamber of Commerce; used with permission.
Stanton D. Anderson JD’69
“I think the breadth of education at Willamette is better than at many Eastern schools. You're better prepared to deal with a wide range of issues.”