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    The Rewards of Political Philanthropy

    By Dwight L. Morris
    June 3, 1996

    Those who believe that large campaign donations don't buy influence clearly do not know C. Howard Wilkins, Jr. of Wichita, Kansas. After Wilkins gave $100,000 to the Republican party, then-President George Bush tapped the former Pizza Hut executive and founder of the Maverick Restaurant Corporation to be ambassador to the Netherlands in 1989. A true believer in the Republican cause, Wilkins has pumped another $143,750 into the coffers of Republican candidates and party committees since leaving his foreign post in 1992, earning him fourth place on the list of top Kansas donors for the five-year period between January 1, 1991 and December 31, 1995.

    His zeal for Republican politics apparently has been passed on to his family. On September 16, 1992, Wilkins wrote a $20,000 check to the Republican National Committee (RNC). The check was recorded as a "hard-money" donation to be used for direct candidate support. That same day, C. Howard Wilkins, III, also of Wichita-who listed his occupation as "actor"-gave an identical $20,000 hard-money donation to the RNC. While many college students spend their extra money on beer, Jason T. Wilkins and Garth B. Wilkins, who listed "student" as their occupation, were both moved to write $20,000 checks to the RNC on September 16. Wendy Wilkins, who did not contribute quite enough to make the list of the top 30 Kansas donors, wrote yet another $20,000 hard-money check to the RNC on the same day.

    Federal law currently caps hard-money donations to political party committees at $20,000 a year. But Wilkins and his family managed to funnel $100,000 in hard money to the RNC on a single day, and a skeptic might wonder if all the contributions – particularly the $40,000 donated by two students – amounted to an end-run around federal election law. (Wilkins should know the law well, since he is the national finance co-chair of Kansas Senator Bob Dole's 1996 presidential campaign committee, a post he also held during Dole's unsuccessful 1988 presidential bid.)

    Wilkins is certainly not the only big contributor to experience the rewards of political philanthropy. Charlie Trie, chairman of Daihatsu International Trading Inc. in Little Rock, Ark., donated $80,500 to Democratic candidates and party organizations between January, 1991 and December, 1995. Virtually all of that money, including a $60,000 soft-money contribution to the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and a $20,000 hard-money gift to the DNC, was donated in 1994.

    While President Clinton would undoubtedly deny that it was a payback for those political contributions, Trie just happened to be one of sixteen people appointed by Clinton to the Commission on U.S.-Pacific Trade and Investment Policy. The group, established by executive order in June, 1995, was formed to advise the president and Congress on ways to help U.S. companies gain further access to Asian markets. Trie's company works to help companies in the United States and China broker trade deals with one another.

    Richard L. Mays, whose $63,900 in contributions since 1991 earned him eighth place on the list of top Arkansas donors, has been for years a close political associate of Clinton's. He was appointed by then-Governor Clinton to a vacancy on the Arkansas Supreme Court in 1980-81. In 1991, Clinton appointed Mays to the state's Ethics Commission. A year later, Mays returned the favor by organizing a fund-raising event in Washington, D.C., that yielded more than $500,000 for Clinton's presidential campaign. Federal Election Commission documents show Mays currently holding down positions at both Mays & Crutcher, a Little Rock law firm, and at Cassidy & Associates, a Washington lobbying firm.

    John W. Allison, who ranks 19th on the list of Arkansas donors, also made friends with his well-placed donations over the years. As Governor, Clinton appointed Allison to the board of trustees at Arkansas State University at Jonesboro, Allison's alma mater.

    It's important to note that unlike Wilkins and Mays, most big donors – including those from Arkansas and Kansas – do not receive either paid or unpaid jobs in recognition of their political philanthropy. Their giving is either economically or philosophically based.

    Jamie B. Coulter, who donates to Republican causes from homes in Wichita, Kansas and Dallas, Texas, has given $227,000 from his Kansas address since 1991. Fueled by profits from Coulter Enterprises Inc., which owns and operates Lonestar Steakhouse and Saloon restaurants as well as numerous Pizza Hut franchises, Coulter has given the Republican National Committee's National-State Elections Committee soft money contributions totaling $162,500. Of the $54,000 in hard-money contributions he's given to Republican candidates and party committees since 1991, $40,000 went to the Republican National Senatorial Committee; $5,000 went to the National Republican Congressional Committee. Coulter currently serves on the board of directors for William Bennett's Empower America.

    David H. Koch, whose $204,530 in contributions to Republican candidates and causes earned him second place on the list of top contributors in Kansas, is vice chair of Dole's presidential campaign. His enthusiasm for Dole is apparently infectious, since nine other individuals listing Koch Industries Inc. as their employer rank among the top forty Kansas contributors.

    Cloud L. Cray Jr., chairman of Midwest Grain Products Inc. in Atchison, Kansas, has donated $181,900 to federal candidates and party committees over the past five years, virtually all of it to Republicans. Bob Dole's leadership PAC, Campaign America, has received $10,000 during this period.

    Alice L. Walton – founder of a securities firm (the Llama Company) and the daughter of the late Sam M. Walton, who launched Walmart – tops the list of Arkansas donors with $198,500. In 1992, she made a $100,000 soft-money contribution to the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and has since given the DNC another $55,000 in soft money and $7,500 in hard money. Prior to the 1992 New York presidential primary, she organized a fund-raising reception in Manhattan to benefit Clinton's presidential candidacy.

    While he was not among the top 30 Arkansas donors, Samuel Robson Walton – Alice's brother and the new chairman of Walton Enterprises – has been a Clinton backer most excited by the president's views on education and economic issues. He has donated $17,250 since 1991, including a $10,000 hard-money check to the Democratic National Committee in September, 1992.

    The Democratic bent of these two Waltons has been partially offset by their brother, James Carr Walton, who has given $50,000 to Republican candidates and party committees since 1991. The late Sam M. Walton and his brother, James L. Walton, also rank among the top 30 donors in Arkansas, with much of their money going to the Republican cause.

    Chicken magnates Don and John Tyson, along with three of their relatives, rank among the top 30 Arkansas donors. Collectively, these five members of the Tyson clan have pumped $241,040 into federal campaign committees since 1991, $107,540 of which went directly to Democratic candidates and party committees. Another $119,500 went to various political action committees, including one sponsored by Tyson Foods Inc.

    This article originally appeared on the PoliticsNow Web site.

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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