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    GE Brings Good Things to Congress: Money!

    By Dwight L. Morris
    March 3, 1996

    It's hard to find a piece of legislation General Electric does not have a stake in.

    • The GE aerospace division, which manufactures satellites, radar, sonar, training simulators, flight controls, and aircraft engines, has a substantial interest in the size and shape of the annual Defense Department budget.
    • As a manufacturer of household appliances, GE has to worry about international trade policy. Those concerns are amplified by the fact that a Latin American subsidiary distributes GE turbine engines and parts.
    • As a manufacturer of high-end medical diagnostic imaging equipment, the company has more than a passing interest in the debate over health care reform.
    • Owning NBC; CNBC; a subsidiary that manufactures satellite broadcasting equipment; and a division that manufactures radio and television communications equipment, GE had a substantial stake in the recent debate over deregulation of the telecommunications industry.
    • General Electric Capital Corporation was among the largest purchasers – at rock-bottom prices – of properties controlled by the Resolution Trust Corporation – the agency established by Congress to handle the federal bailout of failed savings and loans.

    GE cannot afford to be a silent bystander in politics. And it has been anything but silent, in the campaign contributions.

    Since January 1989, GE's political action committee (PAC) and the company's corporate executives have pumped $2,054,199 into the coffers of 734 House, Senate and presidential candidates.

    So-called soft-money contributions, which can be used for such party-building exercises as voter registration but cannot be used to support particular candidates, have amounted to $381,252 since 1992 – the first year such contributions were made public.

    In the House, GE has been most aggressive in protecting its defense interests, passing out checks totaling $335,205 since 1989 to members of the National Security Committee (formally known as Armed Services) and the National Security Subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee.

    Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), the former chairman and current ranking minority member of the defense subcommittee, has pulled in $18,400 from GE over the past seven years. Rep. Charles Wilson (D-Texas), currently the third-ranking Democrat on the defense subcommittee, has received $15,300. Out of power throughout much of his House career but now anxious to catch up, current defense subcommittee chairman C. W. Bill Young (R-Fla.) has received $9,250 over the past four election cycles.

    House members fortunate enough to sit on either the Commerce Committee – which is responsible for crafting federal policy on trade, energy and power generation, health care, environmental protection, and telecommunications – or on the Appropriations subcommittees dealing with commerce and energy have collected checks totaling $217,650 from GE's executives and its PAC over the past seven years.

    Former Commerce and Energy chairman John D. Dingell (D-Mich.) has received $10,000 since 1979, including $2,000 since assuming his role as the committee's ranking minority member. Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), a strong advocate of increased competition in the cable television market, has collected $9,350.

    GE's money train has made regular stops at the Senate gallery, as well.

    While he was in office less than four years, former Senator Harris Wofford (D-Pa.) collected $13,900 from GE's executives and its PAC – $6,000 for his special election victory in 1991 and $7,900 for his losing reelection battle in 1994.

    During his brief four-year stay in Washington, Wofford sat on the Foreign Relations Committee – which oversees international economic policy and trade – and the Environmental and Public Works Committee. His views on health care helped shape the debate within the Democratic party during much of 1993.

    Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has pulled in $13,012. With a seat on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee between 1990 and 1994 and his current seat on Senate Armed Services Committee, Charles S. Robb's (D-VA.) attracted contributions totaling $12,000.

    Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.) turned his seats on the defense appropriations subcommittee and the Commerce, Science and Transportation committees into $11,500. J. Bennett Johnston (D-La.), a member of the defense appropriations subcommittee and the ranking minority member on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee collected $11,000.

    As these numbers suggest, GE's average contribution is far below the $10,000 maximum. Like most corporate players, the company seems to contribute just enough to initiate a conversation.

    Of the 536 House candidates receiving at least one GE contribution during the past seven years, 317 collected less than $2,000, including 147 who received $500 or less. Only two candidates – Murtha and former Rep. Nicholas Mavroules (D-Ma.) received $9,800 or more in a single election cycle (both in 1992).

    As the political winds shifted at the end of 1994, so did GE's pattern of giving.

    In 1994 Democrats received 61 percent of the $631,869 GE distributed to candidates – the identical proportion Democratic candidates received from GE's $410,844 pool in 1990. However, in 1995, Republicans received 64 percent of the $250,061 GE dispensed to House and Senate incumbents and special election candidates in California and Illinois.

    This article originally appeared on the ElectionLine Web site.

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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