Samuel Lowenberg - Independent Journalist biography articles articles

The Bush Money Machine - George W. rakes it in with a little help on the q.t. from his and Daddy's pals.

The Nation  April 10, 2000

If George W. Bush makes it to the White House, he will have an exceptional number of friends waiting for him when he arrives in Washington. A "friend," to a Washington lobbyist, is a politician he's raised money for and expects favors from. The recent scandal over the pro-Bush ads placed by Texas Energy baron and hedge-fund king Sam Wyly only hints at the vast network of money men backing the Texas Governor. But even if the Federal Election Commission cracked down on shady expenditures like Wyly's, the real forces behind the Bush juggernaut- those raising federally sanctioned $ 1,000 contributions-would continue unchecked. Bush has bagged more money to date than any candidate in history-upward of $ 73 million-but figuring out who his fundraisers are is difficult, since there is no requirement to disclose them. Internal lists acquired by The Nation provide a rare insight into the interests behind the donations: They include tobacco, health insurance and drug companies, sweatshop owners, logging companies, foreign governments and banks involved in mega-mergers and money laundering.

The Bush campaign did release a list of "Pioneers"-those who have raised $ 100,000 for the campaign-but it was incomplete; a private list is about three times as long. One name on that private list is Charles Hurwitz, head of Maxxam. Hurwitz's junk-bond-funded S&L ventures are estimated to have cost taxpayers $ 1.6 billion. He used part of that money to acquire Kaiser Aluminum, after which he then locked out 3,000 Kaiser workers. Most recently Hurwitz has been trying to clearcut huge stands of California redwoods. His office had no comment on his fundraising, but probably much to his liking was a law Bush passed as Governor that said property owners must be compensated for government regulations that lower the value of their land.

Another name the campaign did not release was that of Raymond Hemmig, chairman of the board of ACE Cash Express, the nation's largest check- cashing company. In what is essentially legalized loan-sharking, the check-cashing industry both exploits the working poor through ruinous interest rates as high as 500 percent, according to the Center for Responsive Law, and serves as an easy conduit for money laundering, according to federal regulators. In testimony before a House banking subcommittee Hemmig argued against strengthening money-laundering regulations, because the extra paperwork would be too much of a burden on his industry.

His populist, outside-the-Beltway persona and folksy rhetoric notwithstanding, Bush is easily more of a Washington insider than Democrat Al Gore. Present at Bush's kickoff fundraising event last June were more than 2,000 of the local Republican faithful and 150 Washington lobbyists committed to raising more than $ 25,000 apiece. (By comparison, Gore gathered less than twenty $ 25,000 fundraisers for his kickoff.) The top fundraisers strutted proudly down a velvet-ropelined path into a private back room. In keeping with the populist facade of the event, however, they only got a moment to pose with the Governor for a photo before they were thrust into the crowd. Among the top lobbyist fundraisers:

* Haley Barbour. The most powerful GOP influence merchant in the city, Barbour is the former chairman of the Republican National Committee and is credited with being one of the key engineers of the 1994 Republican revolution. As the head of Barbour, Griffith & Rogers, he has been the man to see in Washington for industries with government problems. So far he has an almost perfect record, representing the tobacco companies, health insurance companies, nursing homes and credit-card companies trying to tighten bankruptcy regulations.

* W. Henson Moore. A former Republican Congressman from Louisiana, he now lobbies for powerful logging interests as head of the American Forest and Paper Association.

* Deborah Steelman. Acknowledged by many to be the top healthcare lobbyist in the city, she is a former Reagan Administration official who now represents nearly every aspect of the healthcare-industrial complex. She is one of the Bush campaign's top advisers on healthcare issues, and rumor has it she is bucking for a Cabinet position.

* Nick Calio. A former Bush White House lobbyist, Calio is a principal in one of the most powerful small firms in Washington, representing such clients as Boeing, General Electric and the Securities Industry Association.

* Charlie Black. A longtime Republican operative, he is particularly close to right-wing Senator Phil Gramm, chairman of the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee. Black has represented such diverse interests as Phillip Morris, El Salvador and GTECH Corporation, the world's largest lottery company.

* Peter Terpeluk and David Metzner. This pair found a new favorite cause in George W., a lucky thing given the 1998 ouster of Senator Al D'Amato, who kept them in his inner circle. They've represented Lockheed Martin, the Indian Embassy and the Uniform Standards Coalition, a corporate group seeking tort reform.

* J. Steven Hart. A former Bush Administration operative, he heads one of the city's oldest Republican influence-peddling firms. Hart, who has lots of business before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, hedged his bets in the primaries by also raising funds for Commerce chairman John McCain. His firm's clients include AT&T, Du Pont Pharmaceuticals, and biotech giant Genentech.

* C. Boyden Gray. A former counsel in the Bush White House, Gray is another go-to man for companies in trouble. His clients have included Loral Space and Communications and Citigroup, which is currently facing a Congressional investigation into money laundering. Gray also serves as chairman of Citizens for a Sound Economy, a corporate-sponsored think tank.

One prominent DC lobbyist who has raised nearly $ 100,000 for Bush said that he and others regularly pass the credit for their own fundraising, or simply give cash directly, to powerful CEOs who are also raising money for Bush. "A lot of people give money to the corporate titans because the titan can help them, not because they care who the President is," says the lobbyist. "You match a real estate developer in California with a Pioneer who is a banker in New York, so they can get financing for their project in Nevada. If you help your friends get rich, you get rich."

And that may be the final word on the Bush campaign.

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