http://www.texasobserver.org/Archives/000303_handicapping_the_race.htm Handicapping the Presidential Horse Race by Andrew Wheat THE BUYING OF THE PRESIDENT 2000. 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 Fundraising 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 administration. 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 scandal. 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 million. 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. Copyright The Texas Observer. All rights reserved. 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