It has been said that money is the grease that keeps the wheels of politics turning. Yesterday's Washington Post carried a good example of the validity of that observation.
It began with a report from staff writer Joanne Omang, who told us the Reagan administration is considering a drastic overhaul of the Clean Air Act, "including possible elimination of nationwide standards for air pollutants" and health hazards.
Omang's report began on the front page and was continued inside the paper. Immediately below the conclusion of the Omang report was a related story. It said that Common Cause has charged that seven major industries have contributed more than $1 million to the 35 members of Congress who will decide on how the Clean Air Act should be rewritten.
Half of the million came from firms that own plants that have been adjudged in violation of Clean Air Act regulations, Common Cause said.
The chairmen of the Senate and House committees that will consider the legislation, Sen. Robert T. Stafford (R-Vt.) and Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) are both known to be supporters of environmental legislation, so they were given very little of the million. Republican Stafford got $5,700 and Democrat Waxman only $900, and heaven knows you can't buy a committee chairman for that kind of money in today's inflated economy. Rep. Toby Moffett (D-Conn.), a strong environmentalist, was kissed off with $250.
The big bucks were reserved for three Republican senators serving their first terms. James Abdnor (R-S.D.) received $185,239, Steven D. Symms (R-Idaho) got $183,155. And Frank H. Murkowski (R-Alaska) was the recipient of $93,469. Senate Majority Leader Howard H. Baker (R-Tenn.) didn't fare badly, either. Common Cause says he got $85,855.
The money came from companies that have for decades had recognizable problems because their factories and/or products cause air pollution. The National Automobile Dealers Association contributed $113,500 to the kitty. Dow Chemical's $30,800 contribution was the largest from any single corporation, but other chemical firms helped swell that industry's total.
Common Cause charges that firms in violation of the Clean Air Act made 98 percent of the steel industry's contributions and 82 percent of the chemical industry's.
By contrast, five environmental groups (which want to retain the Clean Air Act) raised only $8,074. Their money was contributed to two Democrats, Sen. Gary Hart of Colorado and Rep. Ron Wyden of Oregon.
As we have noted before, the first priority for many members of Congress is to get themselves reelected. And the prevailing view is that nothing is more useful in an election campaign than ready cash.
It is refreshing to encounter an occasional congressman who thinks a good voting record is more important than campaign cash, but it is depressing to see how often that theory is proved wrong.
Money is important in a race for Congress, but we voters can blame ourselves for that. We tend to pay more attention to slick TV commercials than we do to voting records.
If we took the time to inform ourselves about how our congressmen vote, we wouldn't be so susceptible to political advertising and rhetoric. We would know which candidates share our views and which do not.
But who has time to keep informed these days? It's much easier to spend our time in pleasurable pursuits and then complain about what the politicians are doing to us. POSTSCRIPT
Herm Albright asks: "Wouldn't it be nice if plain citizens could receive contributions to pay off debts like political campaigners do?"
We should also note Bob Orben's comment: "In Washington, a reputation is like money in the bank. Every day it's worth a little less."
B. Freer Freeman of Falls Church pretends to chide me for criticizing the Maryland legislature. He asks, "Don't you know Maryland has the best state government money can buy?" THESE MODERN TIMES
The June issue of Changing Times says: "They say traditional weddings are coming back, but so far we've noted only one double-ring ceremony and it took place in the bridegroom's hot tub."