MotherJones MA93: Body Politic

Who has the president’s ear? How much did they pay for it?

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I like this, getting to the top, the bloom of youth still on my cheeks. Ol’ George never knew what hit him. The economy, stupid! In Arkansas I saw everything that was going wrong. Heck, some of it even got started there–that BCCI, mess, for example… Damn! I hate it when my thoughts go off like that. Where was I? Oh well, you get along by going along. And I’ll grow to fill the office. After all, I’m surrounded by generous friends. But is there enough of me for everyone? Hillary? Hillary! Something tells me we’re not in Arkansas any more.

Agenda: maintain orderly markets, weaken regulations, keep freedom to “do deals.” What commercial bankers want from the dangerously amiable Bill is precisely the thing we cannot afford for him to give them: permission to engage in activities that will raise the risk of a new taxpayer-funded bailout. To assist in their quest, the bankers hired superlobbyist Tommy Boggs (law partner: Ron Brown). If Bill unexpectedly decides to take on the big financial institutions that helped finance his campaign, it will come as a shock to key members of his inner circle, because for twelve years he managed a state that resembled a wholly-owned subsidiary of a giant but little-known financial holding company, Stephens, Inc.
(The battle for Bill’s heart will be interesting. As we all know, it is a divided place [see Left Ventricle], and the dwelling-place for a variety of FOBs.) Agenda: pump oil, make money, protect business. With friends like these, who needs cholesterol? Arkansas in the 1980s was the site of a gigantic S&L catastrophe that not only darkened the windows of the governor’s mansion but cast a long shadow over Hillary’s firm. Nationwide, such crises occurred only where the seat of power (including the White House) was occupied by a chief executive who was pliant, incompetent, or both. And the troll who now sits under the bridge leading to the Oval Office, chief of staff “Mack” McLarty, is the former chairman of a big natural-gas company, Arkla. If the past is prologue, Bill will try to consolidate his hold on his new office by identifying the power brokers in his immediate vicinity and staying out of their way.
Agenda: preserve the corporate welfare state. The indigestion here is the costly system of agricultural subsidies. The government has a genius for crafting sound policies and keeping them on the books long after they cease to be useful, creating special interest groups. So it is with ag subsidies, which are now a helpful program for wealthy contributors like Dwayne Andreas and his company, Archer Daniels Midland.
Agenda: advance free trade without damaging domestic markets. Don’t expect Bill to revise the North American Free Trade Agreement; there’s no indication that he has thought deeply on the subjects of free trade in general or free trade with Mexico in particular. True free trade is a mug’s game. Every other industrial nation in the world jiggers its trade policies to protect its domestic manufacturers and labor markets, but under free traders Ron and George, the American economy was the big loser. According to the Oracle of Omaha, Warren Buffett, who as the most successful investor in the history of the known universe should know, there’s a chump in every poker game. If you’ve been in the game for twenty minutes and don’t know who the chump is, it’s you.
Agenda: get government trade assistance and avoid new domestic restrictions. Blackened and pickled, respectively, is the prognosis here. Both industries hope to offset shrinking domestic sales by hooking replacement addicts in the virgin territories of Asia and Eastern Europe. It is not the happiest of congruences that two of Bill’s top advisers are lawyer Mickey Kantor, whose firm represents Philip Morris, and RJR Nabisco board member Vernon Jordan, from the ubiquitous law firm of Akin, Gump. Alcohol’s abundant profits have helped drive the economy into a semi-permanent state of DUI. The I.W. Harper distilling fortune aided in the creation of the pure force of evil known as Drexel Burnham Lambert, of Michael Milken infamy. Edgar Bronfman of Seagrams found himself with so much money burning a hole in his pocket that he almost single-handedly ignited the destructive corporate takeover binge last decade. Philip Morris can easily afford to pick up a gigantic food company (first General Foods, then Kraft) every few years as a hedge against the day when the last smoker dies. RJR not only bought Nabisco but went private to the tune of $25 billion in the world’s largest leveraged buyout–one whose junk bonds are actually good, because they make so much money. Bill, these guys are all repeat offenders. We say, pass a sin tax and take the money away from them. Don’t inhale!
Agenda: new public works projects. The country’s roads and bridges have deteriorated to the point that what normally moves is getting badly backed up. Public transportation isn’t going anyplace pleasant, either. Just thinking about it is enough to bring on a severe gas attack, if not a gas tax. Improving and maintaining the infrastructure creates jobs. But most projects turn into Congressional pork barrelling and sweetheart contracts. Watch out for infrastructure superstar Bechtel, the traditional lucrative parking lot for the likes of Caspar “Pardon Me” Weinberger. On the positive side, Bill and Al have made encouraging noises about constructing electronic data highways, bringing joy to the nouveau plutocrats of Silicon Valley who endorsed their ticket.
Agenda: limited reform. Not only do major donors, especially among the managing trustees, want some kind of national health reform, but Bill, leading firmly from the rear, sensed an issue of real concern to the populace and made as close to a specific promise as a wily politician ever does. But here be monsters. No issue is more complicated nor as thoroughly riven with conflicting special interests, all with long purse strings, and the usual purchased legislators, like Treasury’s Bentsen, who while a Senator was the top beneficiary of health insurance monies. Meanwhile, the AIDS pandemic brings in the well- heeled pharmaceutical companies, their patents and pricing structure, the whole issue of drug testing and distribution, and related issues, creating for Bill–or anyone else–a can of rapidly mutating worms.
Agenda: keep jobs at home, protect worker safety, preserve strike benefits, enact medical leave. Out of the Oval Office loop since 1980, unions hope their $2 million in soft money donations will get them access. Sadly, labor’s generous contributions do not mean that twelve years of Republican union-busting have come to an end. Bill’s record in Arkansas is not encouraging.
Agenda: protect the military-industrial complex. Pro-Israel. Anti- Castro. Instead of keeping the production lines rolling to produce Seawolf submarines to patrol the oceans against our one plausible remaining enemy, the Royal Navy, Bill needs to alert the nation to a calamitous event–peace has broken out. Here we have a spleen that needs vetting, not venting.
Agenda: advance liberal initiatives. If it’s possible that some money is not dirty money, here’s where to look. Bill is considerably beholden to individuals, such as Alida Rockefeller Messinger, and groups, such as the gay and lesbian Human Rights Campaign Fund and the Hollywood Women’s Political Committee, with well-articulated interests in civil liberties, reproductive rights, the preservation of the environment, and the creation of a humane society that will actually obey its own laws and exhibit an ideal or two.
Agenda: limited reform. Although Bill talked a good educational game and actually instituted mandatory teacher testing to enforce minimum standards of competence in Arkansas, he then fell into his usual accommodating mode and little was accomplished after 1983. In education reform, as in so many other places, money is nice to have, but throwing money at the problem is not the solution–which ought to come as a huge relief to a new President surrounded by whispers that he doesn’t have any. Reformers have to contend with the two big teachers’ unions, who poured money into Bill’s campaign and who fear an education revolution.


Following is a list of some of the major donors of so-called soft money to the Democratic Party in last year’s campaign. These contributors took advantage of a loophole in the election laws that allows them to exceed the $1,000 limit in “hard” money retricted by law.

Mouth Stuffers:

  • Patton, Boggs & Blow, a D.C. law firm hired by the American Bankers Association as lobbyist. Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown is a former partner: $20,750*
  • Patton, Boggs name partner Tommy Boggs and his wife: about $100,000*
  • Robert E. Rubin (now chairman of the National Economic Council): $275,800
  • Other Goldman, Sachs employees and spouses: $107,850*
  • Money raised from others by Goldman, Sachs employees and spouses: more than $5 million
  • Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld: $50,000
  • Lazard Freres & Co.: $116,500
  • BankAmerica: $54,300
  • American Bankers Association: $25,000
  • (Note: A recent addition to the ABA’s board of directors is Clinton’s campaign banker, Curt Bradbury, chair of Little Rock’s Worthen Banking. Worthen advanced Clinton’s campaign a $4.5 million line of credit while Jackson Stephens, chair of Stephens, Inc., was the leading stockholder.)
Heart Attackers (left):

  • Human Rights Campaign Fund: $3 million*
  • Hollywood Women’s Political Committee: $1 million
  • Alida Rockefeller Messinger (concern: health issues): $300,650
  • Swanee Hunt (poverty): $225,000
  • Merle Chambers (women’s issues): $210,000
  • Peter Lewis, Progressive Insurance Company president: $231,300
  • Peter Morton, Hard Rock Cafe owner (the environment): $100,000
  • Greenvote, Clean Water Action, Sierra Club PAC, and the League of Conservation Voters (mostly for Democratic congressional candidates): $600,000 each*
  • Democratic Party Managing Trustees (donors or fund-raisers of at least $200,000) of mostly progressive bent: $2 million
  • (Note: Fewer than half of the approximately twenty-five Democratic Party Managing Trustees are “progressives.” The other trustees’ contributions were in the range of $3 million.)
Heart Attackers (right):

  • Arco: $269,042
  • Revlon Group (Ron Perelman): $141,700
  • Chevron: $105,938
  • Shell Oil: $66,300
  • Occidental Chemical: $55,950
  • Phillips Petroleum: $45,075
  • General Motors: $35,551
  • (Note: Yes, that’s big-time Republican campaign donor Ron Perelman, who also gave $140,000 to Bush. Hedging his bets, no doubt.)
Lung and Liver Donors:

  • RJR Nabisco: $321,000
  • Philip Morris: $222,500
  • Tobacco Institute: $137,275
  • United States Tobacco Company: $125,346
  • Bronfman Family (Joseph Seagrams & Sons): $206,910
  • Anheuser-Busch Companies: $171,200
  • Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S.: $85,050
  • Smokeless Tobacco Council: $59,825
  • Loews Corp.: $51,000
Bowel Movers:

  • Communication Workers of America: $278,180
  • Bechtel Group: $132,950
  • NYNEX: $79,000
  • Fluor Corp.: $69,575*
  • Southwestern Bell: $69,600
  • Bell Atlantic: $67,625
  • Public Securities Association (members are bond issuers, including municipal governments): $54,530
  • MCI: $49,964
Palm Greasers (left):

  • United Steelworkers of America: $403,051
  • Sheet Metal Workers: $229,500
  • United Auto Workers: $226,615
  • Total union soft money contributions: $2 million
Palm Greasers (right):

  • See OLD FRIENDS, FOREIGN POLICY & DEFENSE, ALCOHOL & TOBACCO, etc., for free-trade advocates.
Pancreas Juicers:

  • Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association: $36,950
  • Vitas Healthcare: $137,752
  • Glaxo Inc.: $80,325
  • Henley Group: $50,200
  • American Insurance Association: $49,500
  • Blue Cross-Blue Shield: $21,921
  • Upjohn: $45,575
  • SmithKline Beecham: $41,950
  • American Medical Association: $32,750
  • Health Insurance Association of America: $22,400
  • Pfizer Inc.: $13,000
Brain Drainers:

  • National Education Association: $415,000
  • American Federation of Teachers: $189,081
Stomach Liners:

  • Dwayne Andreas and Archer Daniels Midland: $227,500
  • Connell Co.: $125,000
  • Okeelanta Corp.: $30,000
  • Tyson Foods Inc. & Tyson Family: $17,700
  • (Note: ADM also has a vested interest in maintaining a continued flow of agricultural raw materials from heavily-subsidized, megafarming agribusinesses whose environmental record, taken as a whole, does not sparkle. In this, ADM may have found a soul mate with Bill, who thought that Tyson Food’s heavily polluting chicken farms were one way to jumpstart the Arkansas economy. They weren’t, the White River is allegedly not in very hot shape as a result, and Bill, when queried, admitted that he might have bent the rules a little, here and there. Of course, it would be both politically impossible and unwise to try and demolish the whole subsidy system at one fell swoop–a few payments actually go to real farmers.)
Spleen Venters:

  • Cuban American Florida fund raising: $125,000*
  • General Electric: $124,725*
  • Machinists/Aerospace Workers Union: $165,585
  • Textron: $88,650*
  • General Dynamics: $77,180*
  • McDonnell Douglas: $44,600
  • Martin Marietta: $10,000
  • (Note: Democratic Party Managing Trustee Steve Grossman, who provided at least $200,000 toward the election effort, advised Clinton on Middle East issues and is now head of a powerful pro-Israeli lobby that critics charge controlled millions in donations. Longtime GE lobbyist Robert Barrie was a key Clinton fund-raiser.)

*Denotes “hard” money donations and combination “hard” and “soft” money donations.

These listings are based on the latest figures available from the Federal Election Commission and the Center for Responsive Politics.

L.J. Davis is a contributing editor at Harper’s magazine. Dan Noyes, Holly Ziemer, and Juan Avila Hernandez of the Center for Investigative Reporting contributed reporting to this chart.

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