Six of the Democratic Party's top 10 donors in the last decade were labor unions at the same time the party was promoting labor's policy agenda while burying the issue of union corruption.
On the Republican side, three of the national party's leading financial backers in the 1990s were tobacco companies, which saw the congressional GOP leadership squelch legislation last year that would have cracked down on cigarette makers.
These are among the conclusions of a new book--"The Buying of the President 2000"--released today by the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit investigative group. The organization, which published similar books in 1992 and 1996, said all the leading presidential candidates this year are beholden to some degree to the special interests that have funded their political careers.
"Each of the leading candidates has done public policy favors for their major contributors," said Charles Lewis, the center's executive director. "If you look at any nationally prominent candidate, they had to curry favor."
Eight of the top 10 donors to Bill Bradley's three Senate campaigns and his current presidential run are from Wall Street and insurance companies, which received special attention from him when he was a member of the Senate Finance Committee, the center said in the book.
As a Democratic senator from New Jersey, Bradley sponsored dozens of measures on behalf of a major campaign contributor, the chemical industry, seeking a reduction in taxes owed for importing a variety of drugs, pesticides and other products, some of them dangerous, the center said.
"Anyone who knows Bill Bradley knows he's not beholden to his contributors," said campaign spokesman Kristen Ludecke. She cited as an example his recent proposal to close $125 billion in corporate income tax loopholes.
Vice President Gore's top two career donors were accounting firm Ernst & Young and regional telephone giant BellSouth Corp.
Five of the 10 leading career contributors to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) are communications and entertainment firms dependent on legislation before his Senate Commerce Committee. Other donors include mining interests and railroads, the center said.
"McCain portrays himself as a plain-talking crusader who's bucking the system," Lewis said, but he "rarely breaks ranks with the special interests who finance his campaigns."
"That's fundamentally false," said McCain spokesman Howard Opinsky. McCain has often acted against his donors' interests, as in some communications issues, he said. "The consistent theme in all his positions is he stands up for consumers."
The seventh-largest contributor to Texas Gov. George W. Bush's state and presidential campaigns is Lonnie "Bo" Pilgrim, a founder of a major chicken processing company that has repeatedly been found to have violated pollution standards. He has given Bush $231,750.
Oil and chemical firms also have given generously to Bush, and the Texas governor has granted them breaks on environmental enforcement, the center said.
Bush does not make decisions based on contributions, but "based on what's right for Texas, and he'd do the same as president, based on what's right for America," said Bush spokesman Scott McClellan.
The Center for Public Integrity, a nonpartisan investigative group, assembled these lists of top donors to the two political parties and the four leading presidential candidates. Donations to the parties consisted of "soft money," the unlimited sums given to party groups, from 1991 to 1999. Contributions to candidates were over the course of their political lives.
Communications Workers of America 3,593,815
National Education Association 2,644,927
American Federation of Teachers 2,075,913
Citigroup $ 454,065
Merrill Lynch. 169,500
Goldman Sachs Group 148,800
Morgan Stanley Dean Witter 129,675
Time Warner and affiliated companies 112,770
Ernst & Young International $ 125,200
Goldman Sachs 99,250
D.E. Shaw & Co./ Shaw and Kobliner families 98,000
Phillip Morris $6,211,508
American Financial Group/Lindner family 3,494,000
Nabisco Group Holdings/
R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Holding 3,159,627
George W. Bush
Enron $ 550,025
Sanchez family and related
business interests 320,150
Vinson & Elkins 316,700
Hicks Muse Tate and Furst
and affiliated companies 290,400
Bass family and business interests 273,927
US West $ 107,520
Hensley & Co. 80,300
AT&T and affiliated companies 72,250
Viacom and affiliated companies 61,750
Boeing and affiliated companies 61,400