Common Cause Lists 'Soft' Donors
By Ruth Marcus
For the third year running, tobacco maker Philip Morris was the biggest "soft money" donor to the Republican Party, giving $1.2 million in contributions last year, according to figures compiled by Common Cause. The Democratic Party's biggest soft money donor was the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which contributed $430,000 to Democratic Party committees.
The Common Cause analysis, based on reports by the parties to the Federal Election Commission, showed that tobacco interests gave a total of more than $3 million in soft money to the national parties last year, 82 percent to Republicans.
The biggest industry soft money donors were securities and investment interests, which contributed $4.3 million; followed by insurance, $3.8 million; telecommunications, $3.7 million; and real estate, $3.1 million.
Among those that greatly increased their contributions last year were transportation interests, which contributed $2.3 million in 1997 compared with $1.4 million in 1995. The givers included airlines that lobbied for a reduction in the ticket tax and railroads with a pending merger under scrutiny from federal regulators. Also, last fall Congress began trying to put together a huge six-year transportation spending bill that affects companies involved in highway and mass transit projects.
The computer and electronics industry increased soft money giving to $1.6 million in 1997, up from $1 million in 1995 and reflecting in part the increased visibility on the Washington scene of high-tech executives and companies. Electric utilities, facing a deregulation battle, increased their giving in 1997 to $1.5 million from just over $1 million in 1995.
"Soft money" is the term that refers to unlimited donations from individuals, corporations and labor unions to political party committees. Corporations and unions are prohibited from making direct contributions to candidates for federal elections, and individuals may not give more than $20,000 annually to political parties to help get federal candidates elected.
In recent years, massive amounts of soft money contributions have poured into the political parties. While the money is not supposed to be used directly to help elect candidates to federal office, it helps defray a number of party activities like get-out-the-vote efforts and, in the last few years, "issue advertising" that boosts particular candidates but does not directly advocate their election.
Overall, as previously reported, Republicans outraised Democrats in the soft money chase $40.4 million to $27 million. Five industries insurance; tobacco; securities and investment; oil and gas; and telecommunications gave more than $2 million each to the GOP. On the Democratic side, only labor unions, with $2.2 million in contributions, cracked the $2 million mark, followed by securities and investment interests with $1.9 million.
As always, a number of companies hedged their bets and contributed generously to both sides. Ten gave $100,000 or more to both parties last year, including Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., MCI Communications Corp., Walt Disney Co. and Atlantic Richfield Co.
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