Two weeks ago, the House Ways and Means Committee voted to cut corporate income taxes by $500 billion over the next decade. It turns out that business political action committees gave $1,739,119 to 30 of the 35 committee members for 1980 election campaigns, or 27 percent of their total contributions.
Was there a link between the panel's approval of an ultimate near-abolition of the corporation income tax and the PAC contributions? Were the 30 members who took the money simply selling their votes to the highest bidder?
Choosing its words carefully, the sponsor of a study of the contributions said nothing of the sort is implied. "At least in the short run, the interests of some of a member's constituents may coincide with those of big campaign contributors," Congress Watch acknowledged.
As an example, the organization, an affiliate of the nonprofit Public Citizen Inc. founded by Ralph Nader, cited the member who "both receives a great deal of steel industry money and represents a district whose economy depends on steel."
The study even allowed for the possibility that "a congressman may be genuinely voting his conscience when he supports tax provisions that do not benefit his constituents but do benefit large campaign contributors."
"Nevertheless," the study said, "money does talk."
Five committee members did not accept any business PAC money: Andrew Jacobs Jr. (Ind.), one of the panel's 23 Democrats, and Republicans Bill Archer (Tex.), Philip M. Crane (Ill.), Willis D. Gradison Jr. (Ohio) and L.A. (Skip) Bafalis (Fla.).
In dollar terms, the leaders among the Democratic recipients were committee chairman Dan Rostenkowski (Ill.), $157,425; James R. Jones (Okla.), $137,400, and J.J. (Jake) Pickle (Tex.), $95,408. The average for the 22 recipient Democrats: $54,337. Among the GOP recipients: Guy Vander Jagt (Mich.), $114,562; James G. Martin (N.C.), $106,008, and John J. Duncan (Tenn.), $78,790. The average for the eight Republican recipients: $67,963.
Business PAC contributions as a proportion of total contributions were highest among the Democrats for Ken Holland (S.C.), 63 percent; Ed Jenkins (Ga.), 56 percent, and Rostenkowski, 52 percent. Among the Republicans: Duncan, 51 percent; Bill Frenzel (Minn.), 37 percent, and Martin, 36 percent.
Congress Watch emphasized these points: no member opposed the 10-year, half-trillion-dollar corporate tax cut -- "the only disagreement was on exactly how to do it": candidates getting little from business PACs may get much from individual businessmen and members of their families; most members have "safe seats" -- 15 of the panel's Democrats got at least two-thirds of the vote in the November election, led by Charles B. Rangel (n.Y.) with 97 percent and Kent R. Hance (Tex.) at 93 percent. All of the GOP members but Martin got at least 71 percent; Vander Jagt got 97 percent.
The 17-page study detailed contributions by PACs affiliated with four industries -- steel, autos, railroads and airlines -- that Ways and Means labeled "distressed" in voting June 18 for four-year subsidies of about $3 billion, as well as by oil industry and multinational corporation PACs.