- The Washington Times - Friday, March 29, 2002

Business lobbyists have held an unusually large number of fund-raisers in the past few weeks to support lawmakers who backed President Bush's request for the authority to strike new trade agreements in December.
Since the House of Representatives approved the bill by one vote, a group of major corporations including Caterpillar, Procter & Gamble, Eastman Kodak, Motorola and others have worked to raise money for key Republicans and Democrats who supported the bill and who face tough re-election battles.
They have also pointedly snubbed a small group of Democrats who have supported free-trade bills in the past but refused to do so on this vote.
"There is clearly an effort among companies who care about trade to make sure that members know they have a constituency," said Scott Miller, a lobbyist with Procter & Gamble.
The House voted 215-214 on Dec. 6 to grant Mr. Bush the power to negotiate free-trade agreements on a "fast-track" basis. This bill, if approved by the Senate as expected in April or May, would allow the president to strike agreements and submit them to Congress for an up-or-down vote without amendments.
The bill, also known as trade promotion authority, received strong backing from business, but passed amid stiff resistance from organized labor.
Bill Samuel, director of legislative affairs for the AFL-CIO, said that unions are also contributing money to members who opposed the bill, but that these members, overwhelmingly Democrats, would probably have received this support anyway.
"Business is much more calculating about their fund raising," he said.
Larry Noble, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign contributions, said the large number of fund-raisers linked to the trade vote was unusual because it often creates the appearance of impropriety.
"Lobbyists don't like to tie money to a specific issue, but it happens," Mr. Noble said. "The closer you get to a specific issue, the more it looks like a bribe."
Mr. Miller stressed there is "no explicit connection" between the fast-track trade vote and the fund raising, even though trade lobbyists are the driving force behind the effort."This is an attempt to notice and appreciate what members do," he said.
After the vote, companies put together a list of 16 members equally divided between Republicans and Democrats who backed fast-track despite pressure to go the other way, and set up a busy schedule of fund-raisers. Trade votes have traditionally been bipartisan, so lobbyists have avoided a partisan approach to fund raising, they said.
The list includes members such as Rep. Jim Matheson, the lone Democrat in the Utah congressional delegation, and Rep. Donald L. Sherwood, a Republican from Pennsylvania, a pro-union state. Lobbyists have also refused to attend fund-raisers held by Democrats who call themselves "New Democrats" but did not vote for fast-track.
Trade lobbyists have lavished attention on Rep. Robin Hayes, a North Carolina Republican from what observers consider a very tight race. Mr. Hayes voted for the bill despite longtime opposition in the district to free-trade legislation, drawing strong praise from the White House the following day.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce two weeks ago hosted a fund-raiser that highlighted his vote on fast-track, and lobbyists contributed "about $50,000" to his re-election effort, said one participant who asked to remain anonymous.
"In light of the challenge he's facing over the trade vote, we wanted to send a message," said Bruce Josten, executive vice president for governmental affairs at the business organization.
Andrew Duke, chief of staff to Mr. Hayes, said the congressman voted for fast-track because it contained provisions important to textile industry interests in his district, but said Democrats are sure to make an issue of it in the fall.
"There is going to be a concerted effort [by the Democrats and organized labor] to distort this vote and we need the resources to combat that," Mr. Duke said.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide