Dan Morain

Panama Papers, Campbell Soup and the American way

Campbell's Soup worker seeks a break

Campbell's Soup heir John Thomas Dorrance IV surfaces in the 'Panama Papers," while an unemployed Campbell's worker tries to find work three years after the Sacramento cannery closed.
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Campbell's Soup heir John Thomas Dorrance IV surfaces in the 'Panama Papers," while an unemployed Campbell's worker tries to find work three years after the Sacramento cannery closed.

For John Thomas Dorrance IV, Julie Faris would be another face in the crowd, though in some small way, Faris helped create Dorrance’s gilded life.

John Thomas Dorrance IV is the great-great-grandson of the man who built Campbell Soup Co., an all-American brand. As is the American way, Campbell Soup seized an opportunity to shave costs by shutting its cannery in south Sacramento after 66 years of operation, and issuing Farris and 700 workers their final checks in 2013.

Three years later, Faris, having completed training to become an ultrasound technician, dutifully shows up at Sacramento Works, a government-funded job-placement center off Madison Avenue, hoping for a break.

“I just need somebody to open a door, give me a chance,” Faris said.

Faris had never heard the Dorrance family name until I mentioned it. Nor had I known of John Thomas Dorrance IV before reading mention of him in one of the Panama Papers stories the other day. Though the great-great-grandson is not part of Campbell Soup, his wealth flowed from it. Like many rich people, Dorrance employed the secretive Panamanian law firm, Mossack Fonseca, to handle some of his money.

“He is living the life we helped build,” Faris said.

The Panama Papers are a keyhole through which we can peer and see some ways in which the rich and avaricious hoard money and avoid taxes. Included among the 11.5 million Panama Papers is one suggesting he invested in a Colombian palm oil venture. In an email that is part of the trove, lawyers in Medellin, Colombia, discussed how Dorrance wanted his name replaced with “the name of one of his companies in the Bahamas, LOUP Holdings, Inc.” Rhymes with Soup, I suppose.

The Dorrance family fortune began more than a century ago when John Dorrance devised a way to condense soup, and bought Campbell Soup. He left it to his son, John Dorrance Jr., who died in 1990, with a fortune that included a $100,856 wine cellar and $120 million worth of paintings, the Philadelphia Daily News reported at the time. John Thomas Dorrance IV was 17 at the time.

Forbes lists the Dorrance clan as No. 17 on its list of this nation’s wealthiest families, except John Thomas Dorrance IV no longer lives in his nation. Like his father, John Thomas Dorrance III, John Thomas Dorrance IV relinquished his U.S. citizenship in 2003, the Internal Revenue Service reports. It’s something rich people do to avoid U.S. taxes.

Dorrance didn’t responded to reporters working on the Panama Papers series. But the heir has been subject of press coverage, including a 2014 piece in the Irish Independent under the headline, “The men who put the swoon into tycoon.”

“His father is the one on Ireland’s rich list, but John Dorrance IV gets in by default,” the paper said. “While daddy, an heir to the Campbell’s soup fortune, moved to Ireland in 1994 with his Finnish wife, to avail of our benevolent tax regime, his son John IV, has been a regular fixture on the London society circuit …

“Chunky, hearty, smooth – insert your quirky soup pun here, but whatever way you look at it – this one’s as sexy a dish as they come on an annual rich list.”

In 2004, not long after John Thomas Dorrance IV renounced his citizenship, Faris got hired at the cannery, and worked her way up to being responsible for making sure the can count balanced at the end of the shift. The single mom of two daughters was following in the footsteps of her mom who made ends meet by working for 40 years at the Campbell Soup plant off Franklin Boulevard.

Faris, 39, worked graveyard, so she could be home to get her daughters off to school, and would wake up when they returned home. She was earning $23 an hour, plus overtime and medical benefits, thanks to a contract negotiated by her union, the Teamsters.

In 2012, Campbell announced the closure, saying it could lower costs by shifting production to North Carolina, Ohio and Texas. “Panic,” Faris said, recalling her reaction. Her mom worked there, as did her partner and her friends. They all lost their jobs. “Oh, I cried.”

With her Campbell paycheck, Faris could afford to rent a four-bedroom home with a backyard pool, nice for her daughters. Without the steady check, she had to move to an apartment. Now, she is living with her mother in south Sacramento.

“It is not where I wanted to be at my age,” she said.

Faris had health issues last year. But she has mended, is following leads and making sure her 14-year-old focuses on school. She’s on the honor roll, Faris said proudly.

LaRee LaRose, Faris’ job coach at Sacramento Works, tried to remember all the plants that have closed since she started in the field in 1999: McClellan, telephone call centers, Hostess, Bimbo, Campbell.

“There is hope. You can re-create your story,” she said. She stays positive, and doesn’t want to get too political, but wishes legislators would cast votes in ways that help rather than harm businesses.

Gov. Jerry Brown regularly crows about how California is creating more jobs than lower-cost states like Texas. Statistics show that California’s economy has recovered, the jobless rate is down to 5.5 percent. But many manufacturers find they make more money in low-cost states and in free trade partners, like Mexico.

“If they can go to some other place to do it cheaper, they’re going to do that,” said Rome Aloise, of Teamsters Joint Council 7, which represented the Campbell workers.

In the first week of February 2013, when Faris received her last Campbell paycheck, Campbell stock sat at $37.93. It’s trading above $64 now. It is all part of the all-American story.