Handicapping the Presidential Horse Race
by Andrew Wheat

By Charles Lewis.
Avon Books.
370 pages. $14.00.

If U.S. presidential elections have become the world's most expensive horse
races, informed voters need to know who breeds, stables, and owns the
horseflesh. Comprehensive knowledge of candidates' bloodlines was once
limited to an elite group of political junkies and bookies. That changed in
1996, when Washington's Center for Public Integrity trotted out its first
edition of The Buying of the President -- the one-stop shopping guide to who
bought and paid for our would-be presidents.

The new edition serves up money profiles of eight Republicans, two
Democrats, and one Patrick Buchanan. Each profile includes a list of the
candidate's Top Ten, lifelong "Career Patrons." These digests of who funds
the candidates reveal more than all the stump speeches, debates, and
political ads of this election season.

"Money is not the only ingredient, but it is an essential ingredient to a
successful presidential campaign," says Center for Public Integrity Director
Charles Lewis. "Without exception, in every presidential race since 1976 ...
the candidate who raised the most money the year before the election has
received the nomination of his party."

Imagine that you are a political bookie laying odds on the eleven racehorses
handicapped in The Buying of the President 2000. Experience has taught you
that -- no matter how much they talk about "outsiders" and "reform" -- the
winner will almost certainly be a horse that has vast experience in two key
areas: (1) exercising political influence that relates to special interests;
and (2) raising gobs of corporate money.

With this in mind, you run your finger down the chart below, which lists the
top career patrons of these race horses and the amount of money they had
raised as of January 1, 2000. The field quickly narrows to the four
political warhorses that have a shot at crossing the finish line.

Presidential Finances
Horse Presidential $$ Raised by
January 1, 2000 Top Career Patron  $$ from Career Patron First Federal
George Bush $70,033,835 Enron Corp.  $550,000 1977
Steve Forbes $34,625,213  Forbes publishing fortune $34,150,999  1996
Al Gore, Jr. $31,881,779 Ernst & Young accounting $125,200 1977
Bill Bradley $27,712,505 Citigroup financial services $454,065 1977
John McCain  $15,756,242  U.S. West Communications $107,520 1981
Gary Bauer  $8,788,242 Slifko family (Ohio) $33,000 1995
Pat Buchanan  $6,496,556  Vopnford family (Nebraska) $19,000 1991
Dan Quayle  $5,739,832 Wilshire Financial Services $257,000 1977
Elizabeth Dole  $5,279,740 Verner Liipfert (lobby firm) $38,750 1999
Orrin Hatch  $2,301,133 American Family Life Ins. $38,750 1979
Alan Keyes $2,301,133 National Rifle Association $22,209 1987
Totals $210,599,263   $25,850,323

A good bookie could weed out half the field on the first cut simply by
eliminating any horse that failed to raise, say, $10 million by New Year's
Day. Notice that many of the six eliminated horses share other traits, too.
All except Dan Quayle received less than $100,000 from their top career
patron. While all five favored horses are kept in big corporate stables, the
top patrons of long shots Bauer, Keyes, and Buchanan reflect narrow
interests that are unlikely to go the distance. Keyes' top gun, the National
Rifle Association, is powerful, but a long shot among urban voters. Bauer's
top patrons, the Slifko family of Barberton, Ohio, are right-to-life poster
people. The Vopnford family of Blair, Nebraska, is an odd lead patron for a
"Reform Party" candidate. In 1995, Nebraska's attorney general got a bundle
of Vopnford donations, including $1,000 from politically precocious Leif
Vopnford, age twelve. The Vopnford family had good reason to cozy up to the
attorney general. After 70,000 campers paid the Vopnfords $6,000 apiece for
access to fifty-eight campgrounds in a timeshare deal, the Vopnfords closed
two-thirds of their camps and let others go to seed. They were sued for
consumer fraud by several state attorneys general -- but not in Nebraska.

What the Vopnfords can't buy is an outside chance for their candidate in a
presidential campaign. The odds in this money-driven race eliminate the only
third-party candidate (Buchanan), the sole minority (Keyes), and the lone
woman (Dole), which is no surprise. There are few two-dollar bettors in
presidential campaigns. "Ninety-six percent of Americans don't give a dime
to any politician," Lewis says. "Only one-tenth of one percent of the
population makes the maximum $1,000 contribution, so we're talking about a
narrow sliver of society sponsoring our electoral process." In the last
presidential election year, white men earning more than $100,000 a year
supplied two out of three contributions larger than $200.

Among the five horses that survived the initial cut, odds were against Steve
Forbes for two reasons. First, his federal fundraising operation is just
four years old. The other four survivors are pros who geared up their
fundraising machines two decades ago (three of them started in 1977). The
second strike against Forbes (like H. Ross Perot before him) is that he is a
political outsider who is almost too wealthy. How can you be too wealthy in
a money-driven race? Forbes' top patron -- his own family fortune -- belies
an exceedingly narrow fundraising base. Note that the leading career patrons
of Bush and Bradley, for example, are Enron and Citigroup. Bush built a
reputation for servicing not just Enron but the entire energy industry;
Bradley has played this role for the financial industry.

Forbes lacks this critical ingredient: what might be called the real retail
politics. His top patron is Forbes, Inc. and that's where it ends. The
publishing industry as a whole does not subscribe to Steve Forbes. Forbes
has never held a position of power where he could build trust with an
industry by taking its money and then delivering whatever its lobbyists
wanted. While the odds are on a thoroughbred winning the race, this one
seems to be far too inbred.

Having winnowed an eleven-horse race down to four thoroughbreds with winning
financial pedigrees, what more does The Buying of the President say about
them? Lewis looks not only at big contributors, but the relationship between
the giver and the receiver -- and what that relationship implies.

George W. Bush

Observer readers are familiar with much of the ground Lewis covers in The
Buying of the President, including accounts of how he:

made $15 million off the Texas Rangers deal with the help of $135 million in
corporate welfare from Arlington taxpayers;
took $4.5 million from the business interests clamoring for "tort reform"
and rewarded them with laws that make it harder to sue irresponsible
businesses; and
invited oil industry executives to develop a do-nothing public relations
response to the "grandfathered" air pollution problem in Texas.
The Observer has not yet covered the University of Texas Investment
Management Company (UTIMCO) scandal, in which huge sums of money flow back
and forth between Bush and his top donors. Tom Hicks (of the Dallas
corporate takeover firm Hicks Muse Tate & Furst) made Bush a millionaire
fifteen times over by buying the Texas Rangers. Hicks and his brother Steven
contributed $146,000 to Bush's gubernatorial campaigns; Steven is a Bush
fundraising "Pioneer," who has raised at least $100,000 for Bush's
presidential race. Tom Hicks long urged U.T. to move part of its $13 billion
endowment into riskier investments. In 1990, for example, he tried to get it
to invest in his takeover of Healthco, a dental supply company that went
bankrupt three years later. In 1995, the Texas Senate confirmed Tom Hicks as
a U.T. regent, just as Bush was moving into the Governor's Mansion. Hicks
hired lobbyists to push a bill -- signed into law by Bush -- that created
UTIMCO. With Hicks as its first chair, UTIMCO began to dole out lucrative
contracts to private investment firms to manage portions of the endowment.
Many of these firms had ties to Hicks and Bush:

The Carlyle Group. The elder George Bush reportedly has an equity stake in
this firm, which is run by leading members of his presidential
Maverick Capital Fund. Its investors include Bush Pioneer Charles Wyly and
his brother Sam, who gave $210,273 to Bush's gubernatorial campaigns.
Bass Brothers Enterprises. Bass family interests funneled $215,000 to Bush
and financed a Bahraini drilling contract won by a small oil exploration
company where Bush served as a director.
Kohlberg Kravis Roberts. This corporate buyout firm would soon join Hicks,
Muse in a $1.5 billion takeover of Regal Cinemas.
Evercore Partners. Evercore joined Hicks, Muse in a $900 million buyout of
television stations soon after its UTIMCO deal.
American Securities Partners. The company won a UTIMCO contract soon after
selling eleven radio stations to Hicks, Muse.

Al Gore Jr.

The personal balance sheet of the candidate who wrote Earth in the Balance
does not appear to be tempered by environmental concerns.

Armand Hammer, the man known as "the Godfather of American corporate
corruption," oversaw Occidental Petroleum and used to brag about having the
late Senator Al Gore, Sr. "in my back pocket." The elder Gore moved straight
from the Senate to a $500,000-a-year chairmanship of an Occidental
subsidiary. Occidental also bought zinc-rich land near the Gore's Tennessee
farm for $160,000 and then resold it to the Gores. Ever since, Occidental
has been paying $20,000 a year to the Gores for the right to mine this land.
It has paid out much more for these unexercised mining rights than it
originally paid for the land itself. The deal only makes economic sense if
placed in a wider context.

In 1912, the U.S. Navy set aside oil-rich lands as emergency oil reserves.
Oil barons resorted to various schemes to get at this treasure, including
the $300,000 bribe they paid the U.S. Interior Secretary in 1922, in an
episode known as the "Teapot Dome" scandal. Big Oil finally succeeded in
1996, when the White House stuck Al Gore's oil deal into a defense bill. The
$3.65 billion oil sale that the Gore provision allowed was the largest
privatization of federal property in U.S. history, one that tripled
Occidental's domestic oil reserves.

The Buying of the President also contains accounts of:

what Gore did for such big donors as Ernst & Young and Walt Disney;
how Gore's donors profited from the government's reckless decision to
privatize the U.S. (uranium) Enrichment Corporation;
how his plan to connect every school to the Internet benefits his
contributors and adds thirty dollars in unitemized charges to your annual
phone bill; and
Gore's recurring role in White House fundraising scandals.

Bill Bradley

Bradley retired from the Senate in 1995, saying "people have lost faith in
the political process" due to "the power of money in politics." This was
quite a statement coming from the same "Dollar Bill" Bradley who:

ran a 1984 campaign that altered its financial reports so it could raise
more money then the law allowed;
earned the title of "King of Bundled Contributions" by repeatedly raising
large numbers of $1,000 checks from employees of the same company;
refused an opponent's challenge in 1990 to limit campaign spending and forgo
PAC money; and
led the U.S. Senate in expense-paid junkets.
Bradley left the Senate after promising "to do other things in the public
interest that I couldn't do ... in the United States Senate," such as
"energize movements" seeking "radical campaign-finance reform." Instead, as
a private citizen, he immediately began raking in hundreds of thousands of
dollars in consulting fees from Wall Street firms that bankrolled his
campaigns when he served their interests on the Senate Finance Committee.
Eight of his Top Ten Career Patrons are financial firms such as Citigroup,
Merrill Lynch, and Goldman Sachs.

In the late eighties, Congress was investigating corporate raiders
responsible for massive layoffs, junkbond-driven bankruptcies, and raids on
pension funds. These firms flooded Congress with contributions in an attempt
to head off regulation. The top recipient was Bradley. He was a tireless
defender of the corporate raiders and has recruited many of them to
financially leverage his presidential campaign. Banks and investment firms
provided $2.8 million to Bradley's presidential war chest, or 10 percent of
his total.

Drug and chemical companies were the other focus of Bradley's retail
politics. He won $100 million worth of tariff breaks for them on imported
chemicals. Some of the chemicals that he made cheaper to import are the
highly toxic pesticides ethyl parathion, methyl parathion, and malathion.
The presidential funding provided from chemical and drug interests is
currently unavailable, but in the Senate from 1985 to 1990, Bradley received
$123,515 from the pharmaceutical industry, led by Warner-Lambert and Merck
and Company.

Bradley says "one of my proudest achievements" was the 1986 Tax Reform Act,
which was supposed to do away with tax loopholes. Yet Bradley himself made
sure that his signature-mark reform measure did not eliminate a
pharmaceutical tax loophole that Senator David Pryor called "the mother of
all tax breaks."

John McCain

Even the indulgent federal banking regulators of the eighties worried about
the abandon with which Charles Keating, Jr. raided taxpayer-insured funds in
his Lincoln Savings & Loan to finance speculative real estate deals and his
own lavish lifestyle.

After the Keating Five -- members of Congress who took $1.3 million from
Keating -- intervened on Keating's behalf in 1987, federal regulators
delayed the inevitable takeover of Lincoln for two more years. At $2.6
billion, it was the most costly S&L bailout in history, and postponing the
bailout added to this cost. John McCain was in deep. His family had zipped
around on Keating jets, including two trips to Keating's Bahamian vacation
estate. McCain took $112,000 in Keating-related contributions, which made
this monied pariah his top career patron -- at least until McCain turned
over $112,000 in Keating money to the U.S. Treasury in the wake of the

Senator McCain backed away from Keating, but the McCain clan hung on to one
Keating perk much longer. In 1986, Keating cut McCain's wife Cindy and
father in-law James Hensley into a strip mall he was developing. When the
mall sold two years ago, Hensley (the owner of a huge Anheuser-Busch
distributorship that is McCain's Number Two Career Patron) and Cindy McCain
made a profit that reportedly fell somewhere between $100,000 and $1

The senator's Number Seven Career Patron, Del Webb Corporation, has
engineered several controversial land swaps with the federal government. The
U.S. House passed legislation in 1994 to expand Nevada's Red Rock National
Conservation Area. Part of the land that this bill would have preserved was
a parcel that Del Webb wanted for a subdivision. The homebuilder had
proposed that the feds swap that land for another parcel Del Webb owned.
Exercising his senatorial prerogative, McCain put a "hold" on the bill,
providing Del Webb lobbyists time to rally Nevada's congressional delegation
behind an alternative land swap deal that accommodated Del Webb.

The Buying of the President also describes how this reformer, who moved from
Keating's jets to a campaign bus he calls "Straight Talk Express," has
serviced the aerospace, railroad, telecommunications, and other high-tech
interests that come before his Senate Commerce Committee.

In a fitting culmination of a book devoted to the dizzying financial web
that binds large corporate interests together with "our" presidential
candidates, The Buying of the President describes several occasions in which
McCain went to bat for Rupert Murdoch's Fox Broadcasting Corporation. A
small footnote duly discloses, "Murdoch also owns the company that published
this book."

Andrew Wheat is a freelance writer and researcher at Texans for Public
Justice, an Austin-based campaign finance watchdog group.

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