Election Year: The $$$ That Counts

Behind the ideological rhetoric of its new American revolution, the Republican right is carving up the country for its business backers. At the end of the day, the cuts from social welfare programs will find their way into the pockets of rich right-wingers in the form of special tax treatments, jacked-up Medicare and insurance rates, reduced environmental protection, and interest on student loans.As The Buying of the President, the new book by the Center for Public Integrity makes clear, this year's presidential election is not a contest between candidates of opposing views, but an advertising match between different companies, fronted by celebrity spokespersons. There is Bob Dole, representing Gallo wines and the Koch oil interests, versus Bill Clinton, sporting the Tyson and Wal-Mart colors. Then there is Phil Gramm of the NRA (gun owners pumped $440,000 into him), who can also be called upon to do a star turn for the usual assortment of Texas interests -- Boone Pickens, the Hunts, First City Bancorporation of Houston, and big oil's law firm, Baker & Botts. The Gramm package includes his wife, Wendy, who, until she resigned in 1993, was chair of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. Companies would give to Gramm, then go along to plead their cases before Mrs. Gramm. After she quit, Wendy Gramm got a directorship on the board of one of the campaign contributors. Gramm got $157,000 from companies asking his wife for exemptions at the Commission.The other candidates are lesser versions of the same thing: Richard Lugar, a long shot for Eli Lilly; Lamar Alexander, best known for his prescient investments in private prisons and schools. Even "outsider" Pat Buchanan grabs small contributions and gets advice from Coors beer, Dominoes Pizza, and Sherwin Williams paint company.But to follow the serious money, you have to look to Congress. There, ensconced among the Speaker's staff, you will find a financial apparatus that looks more like the syndicate department of a Wall Street securities firm than a Congressman's office. Here the Republican leadership hammers together its deals through a variety of political action committees (GOPAC is but the best known), foundations (Progress & Freedom Foundation), soft money, honoraria, and contributions to "Friends of Newt Gingrich" campaign committee.At the heart of this operation, according to reports by the Center for Responsive Politics, are a handful of wealthy conservative Gingrich-backers. The Speaker's largest contributors include Terry and Mary Kohler who own Windway Capital Corp ($715,457 to GOPAC and lesser amounts to the Republican party and Gingrich campaign itself), along with Owen and Susan Roberts, who run Capital Formation Counselors, a financial consulting company which gave $324,513 to GOPAC and other GOP arms. Richard Gilder Jr., president of a New York securities firm gave the Speaker over $300,000 and K. Tucker Andersen, who is managing partner of an investment firm called Cumberland Associates, gave him $187,000. Gingrich also gets money from Jones Intercable, BellSouth, the Georgia office of the Belgian chemical company Solvay, and various pharmaceutical companies including Dow and Direct Access Diagnostics.Not that Gingrich should be singled out for his business acumen. The right-wing money gets spread around the Republican leadership. Thomas Bliley, who chairs John Dingell's old Energy and Commerce Committee is known affectionately as the "Marlboro Man" for his unstinting support of the tobacco industry. He takes more money from the tobacco industry than any other member. He also fought health care reform, and gets support from timber, mining and finance interests. For Dick Armey the safe bets are insurance, banks, doctors, and United Parcel Service. (United Parcel has the largest PAC in the nation).Then, of course, there is Tom DeLay, the pesticide salesman who calls himself a scientist and is the majority whip. He is an empire unto himself. According to a study of PAC funding recently released by Citizen Action, DeLay was at the head of the list with more than $278,671 in 1995, with the biggest contributors being doctor and insurance company PACs ($62,750) which wanted Medicare changes that would have increased doctors' fees and insurance company premiums; and $17,500 from corporations anxious to reduce capital gains tax rates and abolish the alternative minimum tax (it currently requires that corporations pay some taxes). DeLay received $105,171 from companies desiring the weakening of environmental regulations, and $64,750 from companies trying to gut OSHA. If only DeLay's attention to the issues matched his desire to please the money men. DeLay has admitted he drafted legislation to repeal the provisions of the Clean Air Act which protect the ozone layer without reading internationally peer-reviewed scientific assessment on ozone depletion.Even House freshmen excel at the fundraising game. They collected $5 million from special-interest PACs in the first six months of 1995.There's a member for every interest. If you own a yacht, the men to see are John Breaux of Louisiana and John Chafee of the yachting capital of Rhode Island, who won a reprieve for recreational boaters from a 1993 law that imposed a 4.3 cent-per-gallon tax on diesel fuel.If it's billboards, then your man is Pennsylvania's Republican congressman Bud Shuster, chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, who during the 1994 election cycle received $57,415 from the billboard industry. Schuster fought hard for a provision in the House highway bill that would allow more billboards on scenic byways, and after a bitter fight, finally won the states the right to make exceptions to the billboard ban.The Republican-right revolutionaries drone on about the horrors of big government, and the refreshing breezes of the free market. But when push comes to shove, they are there for the highest bidder. New York Republican congressman Gerald B.H.Solomon, chair of the House Rules Committee and a Gingrich insider, beat down a reform of the dairy business that would have upset a business-as-usual subsidy to farmers costing consumers $2.5 billion. As a result, the National Milk Producers Federation treated Solomon to a money-grabbing feast at Le Mistral, a fancy Washington restaurant. The invitation read: "To show your appreciation to Mr. Solomon, please join us....PACs throughout the industry are asked to contribute $1000. Mr. Solomon would prefer that checks be made to his leadership fund, 'Leadership for America Committee.' If your PAC is unable to comply with this request, please make your PAC check to 'Solomon for Congress."' During the first six months of 1995, dairy producers contributed $343,163, most of it from PACs, to members of Congress. Fifty eight per cent went to Republicans.One of the most incredible results of the supposedly radical Congress is that it has actually managed to increase political reliance on big money. While lawyer lobbyists have long manipulated Washington from behind the scenes, until this Congress, they were content to sit in the audience at committee hearings, and twist arms in the corridors or on weekend retreats. Now, the lobbyists have snuck out into the open and can be seen sitting with the members at committee hearings, writing the bills, and explaining what they mean to other members.The most important cause for Republican business is to roll back regulations, especially the costly environmental pollution controls. To that end, Senator Bob Dole hired an attorney from an outside law firm, which had numerous business clients eager for regulatory relief, to run the bill. The legislation actually was written by C. Boyden Gray, White House counsel during the Bush administration and author of a previous failed attempt at "reform." Gray is with a private law firm which has clients that stand to gain from a rollback. After Gray wrote the bill, more outside lawyers were recruited, this time to interpret the legislation for other members of the Senate and their staffs. In the end, the Senate became a passive spectator to legislation of the private lawyers whose clients sought relief.The telecommunications industry -- local and long-distance phone companies, broadcasters, and cable interests have spent nearly $40 million in campaign funds over the last decade, investing $18 million in current members of Congress. Nine out of 10 members take money from telecommunications PACs. The industry poured hundreds of thousands into Republican campaigns, days before the election and made contributions to two-thirds of the House freshmen once they had been elected. Top executives were invited to closed-door meetings of the Republican House Commerce Committee.Lobbyists include Reagan and Bush officials -- Marlin Fitzwater, Lynn Martin, Dick Cheney, Howard Baker, and Vin Weber, ideological guru of the New Right. Slightly less influential are Democrats Ray Marshall, and Griffin Bell, secretary of labor and attorney general under Jimmy Carter, along with Peter Knight and Roy Neel, lately of the Clinton administration. It was all too much for South Dakota's homeboy senator Larry Pressler."How do you say 'no' to the CEO?" asked the Republican senator, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, and top recipient of telecommunications PAC funds during the first half of 1995. Pressler collected over $100,000. Next highest recipient in the Senate was Fred Thompson from Tennessee with $37,000 and Congressman Jack Fields, chair of the commerce subcommittee on telecommunications and finance, $97,500.


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