Tip Sheet

A guide to the biggest vices in Congress

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Nailing down every special interest that contributed to the $910.1 million raised for this year’s federal elections would require serious Starr treatment. The biggest givers, however, can’t hide their cash. Here’s what they were after (listed in descending order of how much they gave through June 30):

Telecommunications ($12.6 million) The 1996 Telecommunications Act, ostensibly meant to spur competition among phone and cable companies and pass savings on to consumers, actually hastened mergermania in the phone industry and led to soaring cable rates. Nonetheless, in July, the Senate quashed a proposal to investigate the rate hikes. Especially interested: No. 110, No. 137, No. 202, No. 249.

Oil ($10.8 million) According to the Project on Government Oversight, oil companies owe the U.S. an estimated $2 billion in royalties on oil taken from public land. When the Interior Department tried to collect an additional $66 million by charging more for oil, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) inserted an eleventh-hour provision blocking the change into a spending bill. The provision itself sailed through without a separate vote. Especially interested: No. 215.

Alcohol, Hotels, and Restaurants ($9.8 million) In March, the House considered lowering the legal maximum blood-alcohol content level for drivers from 0.1 percent to 0.08 percent. But the food and beverage industry feared that fewer drinks would mean less profit. No lawmaker wanted to go on record opposing the measure, so the proposal was secretly killed in a House committee without a recorded vote. Especially interested: No. 33, No. 121, No. 179.

Pharmaceuticals ($7.4 million) In November 1997, Congress voted to allow drug manufacturers to promote their products for uses not approved by the Food and Drug Administration, ignoring critics’ concerns about possible health risks. A few months later, Congress forced the FDA to back away from proposing new advertising restrictions on drug companies. Especially interested: No. 6, No. 25, No. 160.

Tobacco ($5.9 million) When lawmakers inserted a last-minute $50 billion tax break for tobacco companies in the 1997 budget bill, public outrage forced them to strip the measure. But tobacco money still carries clout in Congress: The industry won a bigger battle in June when the tobacco settlement died in the Senate. Especially interested: No. 121.

High-Tech ($4.8 million) The newly formed Technology Network PAC has hosted events for more than 100 politicians — and the face-time has paid off. With White House support, Congress passed two top items on TechNet’s legislative agenda: uniform national standards for securities lawsuits (despite complaints from consumer groups that the standards deprive aggrieved investors of valuable protections) and the expansion of a visa program that allows foreign high-tech workers into the United States. Especially interested: No. 40, No. 201.

Gambling ($3.6 million) The Treasury Department estimates that in 1995 more than 1,500 millionaires deducted gambling losses from their taxes, costing the government $377 million in lost revenues. But when Congress considered killing the gambling deduction, the industry’s friends in Washington came to the rescue. Especially interested: No. 74, No. 108, No. 168.

Credit ($3 million) This year, Congress passed a bill that will force bankrupt consumers to repay some of their debt despite protests from the Consumer Federation of America, which argued that the bill penalizes consumers but places no responsibility on credit card companies for extending credit indiscriminately. (According to the CFA, the portion of households with incomes less than $20,000 that received credit card offers rose to 58 percent in 1996.)

Health Insurance ($2.2 million) In the fall of 1997, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) reportedly made an eloquent appeal to representatives of the health care industry: “Get off your butts; get off your wallets.” Lott was warning them about President Clinton’s soon-to-be-announced patients’ bill of rights, a proposal to give Americans more leverage in health care issues. Money poured into the GOP from managed care companies, and House Republicans rallied around a watered-down version of the bill. At press time, it had stalled in the Senate. Especially interested: No. 98, No. 122.

Jennifer Shecter is a researcher for the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics in Washington, D.C.

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Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

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