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  • Common Cause's study of 1997 soft money donations

  •   Common Cause Lists 'Soft' Donors

    By Ruth Marcus
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Friday, March 13, 1998; Page A23

    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.

    Top Contributors
    Top soft money donors to national party committees, 1997:


    Republican

    Philip Morris Cos. Inc.* $1,190,702
    Amway Corp./Richard M. DeVos* 1,005,000
    R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. 475,500
    American Financial Group* 310,000
    Union Pacific Corp.* 281,025
    Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. 275,000
    Pfizer Inc. 266,550
    Tobacco Institute 258,190
    Freddie Mac 250,000
    Travelers Group Inc.* 243,329
    Walt Disney Co.* 237,175
    CSX Corp.* 235,520
    Interface Group Inc.* 226,000
    Bell Atlantic Corp. 222,800
    US West Inc.* 206,500


    Democratic

    American Federation of State,
    County and Municipal Employees*
    $430,454
    Bernard L. Schwartz (CEO, Loral
    Space & Communications Ltd.)
    366,000
    Communications Workers of America* 345,500
    Peter L. Buttenwieser (educational consultant) 260,000
    Philip Morris Cos. 242,923
    International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers* 231,700
    MCI Communications Corp.* 224,465
    Thompson Medical Co.* 210,000
    Shorenstein Co.* 202,000
    Connell Rice & Sugar Co. 200,000
    Williams Bailey & Wesner 180,000
    Service Employees International Union* 156,000
    Oracle Corp. 154,518
    Diamond Enterprises of Florida Inc. 150,000
    MA Berman & Co.* 150,000
    BellSouth Corp. 149,034


    * Includes contributions from corporate executives.


    SOURCE: Common Cause

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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