Good morning. Please allow me to spend a couple of moments talking about the Center for Public Integrity. We are a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that does investigative reporting and research on public policy issues in the United States and around the world. Since 1990 the Center has produced more than 250 investigative reports and 12 books and in the past seven years has been honored 21 times by the Society of Professional Journalists, Investigative Reporters and Editors, and other respected organizations. Called “the center for campaign scoops” by the New Yorker magazine, the Center won the Sigma Delta Chi Public Service award for breaking the Clinton White House “Lincoln Bedroom” scandal in 1996, and The Buying of the President 2000 first disclosed that Enron was candidate Bush’s top career patron.
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Today, we are announcing the release of The Buying of the President 2004: Who’s Really Bankrolling Bush and His Democratic Challengers – and What they Expect in Return. The book, published by HarperCollins, is the third in a series we began here at the Center for Public Integrity back in 1996. This is the only book of its kind, containing investigative profiles and personal histories of the major presidential candidates. In other words, this is the inside skinny about the candidates that you won’t see in their campaign ads or on their Web sites.
A team of 53 researchers, writers and editors at the Center for Public Integrity gathered and analyzed thousands of national and local news articles dating back decades, tens of thousands of pages of government data obtained from the Federal Election Commission, the Congress, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and many other federal and state agencies, and we interviewed more than 600 people, including former President Jimmy Carter, and former presidential candidates Robert Dole and John McCain. As part of the Center’s trademark “no-stone-unturned” approach, we created several internal computer databases, including one containing about two million campaign finance records of the presidential candidates that allowed us to convert federal, state and soft-money records into “Top Ten Career Patron” lists, ranking the top sponsors of each candidate’s career. The Center filed the most Freedom of Information Act requests on a single investigative project in its 14-year-history – 200 requests to more than 100 federal agencies – and we received more than 10,000 documents.
Before getting into our specific candidate and findings, I have a few observations. Our electoral process is broken, with about half or more of America’s eligible voters not voting in every federal election cycle. After the Florida recount debacle, in which the likes of Fidel Castro and Robert Mugabe lectured us on how to conduct democratic elections, we still do not have a single, standardized system of voting throughout the nation. The campaign process has become so expensive that it limits the talent pool available today to only millionaires or those willing and able to raise substantial sums of cash from wealthy and powerful interests with business before the government. Forty members of the current U.S. Senate are millionaires; less than one percent of the American people are millionaires. And big money mixed with irregular and high-tech redistricting help explain why the incumbent reelection rate in the House of Representatives the past three elections has been more than 98 percent. These are the kind of numbers we expect to see in countries like North Korea or China, not the United States.
Despite campaign finance reform, 2004 already is and will ultimately be the most expensive election in U.S. history. President George W. Bush has shattered his own astounding 1999 fundraising record and collected $130 million in 2003 – that’s more than half a million dollars a day – and his campaign has $99 million in cash on hand with no major Republican primary challenger. Bush’s official third quarter cash on hand number of $73 million was more than all of the major Democratic candidates and all of the Democratic national party committees combined ($54 million) through September!
There is an especially compelling reason for candidates to make this headlong rush for cash. As we mentioned in the 1996 and 2000 editions of The Buying of the President, the central, most salient, single fact about the White House selection process—a discovery first made by Republican political fundraising consultant Stan Huckaby—is that in every presidential election since 1976, the candidate who has raised the most money at the end of the year preceding the election, and been eligible for federal matching funds, has become his party’s nominee for the general election. At midnight on December 31st, it was Carter and Ford who had amassed the most campaign cash in 1975, Carter and Reagan in 1979, Mondale and Reagan in 1983, Dukakis and G.H.W. Bush in 1987, Clinton and Bush in 1991, Clinton and Dole in 1995 and Gore and G.W. Bush in 1999.
Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean raised the most money in 2003 among the Democrats, $40 million, his reported total less than a third of Bush’s for the year. Dean opted out of the public financing system, which limits what candidates can spend in the primaries, citing the need to challenge Bush’s prodigious fundraising as his reason; Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry followed suit, relying on his personal wealth to fuel his campaign. Late entrant Wesley Clark has touted the more than $10 million his campaign raised in its first full quarter of fundraising, and even dark horse candidate Dennis Kucinich trumpeted his larger-than-expected campaign coffers on his Web site.
But all of that campaign money, of course, comes at a very steep price. Call it “the price of power” in our commercial, pay-to-play democracy, but each of the leading presidential candidates for the 2004 election has done public policy favors for his major campaign contributors. They don’t exactly put it that way, or want to acknowledge at all how they service their major donors. The simple aim of The Buying of the President 2004 is to get at the unvarnished truth, underneath the layers of obfuscation, rhetorical excess and just plain lies. Enron Corp., the Houston-based energy firm that touched off a financial, legal and political scandal when it declared bankruptcy in December 2001, remains George Bush’s top career patron. Enron’s employees and political action committee have given more than $600,000 to Bush over the course of his political career. By the way, in 2003, executives of the reorganized, bankrupt, disgraced Enron — including Joseph W. Sutton, the company’s chairman — continued to contribute to the Bush campaign. In 1997, while he was CEO of Halliburton, Dick Cheney wrote a letter to Vice President Al Gore, opposing more stringent air standards. “Implementation of these standards,” he wrote to Gore, “would cause great harm to consumers, my own industry, and the U.S. economy and will still not deliver the promised significant enhancement of health protection to the American public.” As Vice President, Cheney has played a lead role in shaping the administration’s energy policies, which critics charge will lead to greater pollution and lower air quality. Ironically, at the end of his letter, Cheney asked that any change in the environmental standards “be addressed in full and open debate.” That is not exactly how critics have described the secret, off-the-record, exclusive meetings the Vice President has had with energy executives the past three years.
While governor, Howard Dean pushed for utility contract provisions that saved the power companies, but cost Vermont families millions of dollars in higher skyrocketing rates. Vermont has the sixth highest utility rates in the country, due in part to a series of long-term contracts between its major power companies. After years of pushing for Central Vermont Public Service Corp. and the smaller utilities it held to absorb the excess costs of their expensive contracts, Dean’s Department of Public Service agreed to let ratepayers be billed for more than 90 percent of the excess costs—which could soar into the hundreds of millions of dollars. Central Vermont Public Service Corp. donated more than $10,000 to Dean’s Fund for a Healthy America PAC—a hefty contribution in a state that limits campaign contributions for statewide offices to $400.
Dean, in his 11 years as governor, did not propose a law or publicly support any legislation requiring financial disclosures for legislators or executive branch officials, meaning that his assets and income of almost $4 million went unreported. Vermont is one of just three states with no such disclosure laws.
We found from Securities and Exchange Commission records that Acxiom, a company that was seeking Homeland Security contracts, agreed to pay former General Wesley Clark hundreds of thousands of dollars for his help in persuading the government to buy the company’s wares. Clark was a registered lobbyist while he simultaneously served as a military analyst on CNN, and indeed, Clark was still registered as a lobbyist when he declared his candidacy on Sept. 17, 2003.
Rep. Richard Gephardt tried to lower taxes on alcohol at least five times over the years, much to the pleasure of his largest career patron, Anheuser Busch, which has given him more than $517,000 over the years.
Senator John Kerry wrote letters to the FCC asking it to delay its spectrum auction, keeping in line with his brother’s law firm, which represents the telecommunications industry and has given the senator more than $222,000.
Law firms constitute 22 of former trial lawyer Senator John Edwards‘ top 25 career contributors, and $6.8 million of the $11.9 million he had raised through June 2003 came from lawyers.
After receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions from biotechnology companies, Senator Joseph Lieberman hired the industry’s top lobbyist for his staff and went on to introduce and co-sponsor bills on which this sector lobbied.
As previous editions of the book illustrated in 1996 and 2000, special interests pre-select the candidates for president before a single primary vote is recorded, and they influence the policies and platforms of the candidates seeking the nation’s highest office. The Buying of the President 2004 also provides new information about the “Top 50 Patrons” of the two major political parties, which illuminates the relationships between the presidential candidates and their respective parties. For example, the top “soft money” (large, unlimited contributions) donor to the Republican Party since 1991 has been Philip Morris, contributing $10.3 million. The top “soft money” donor to the Democratic Party since 1991 has been the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), contributing $16.5 million. The book includes chapters on the bitter primary battle Bush campaign workers and allies waged against John McCain, and looks closely at the Florida recount of 2000 and how President-elect Bush failed to reveal the names of hundreds of donors on his disclosure forms, including that of White House strategist Karl Rove. The book also profiles the Republican and Democratic parties, and offers an in-depth look at the first years of the Bush administration.
The Center for Public Integrity will continue to update its information on the candidates and their career patrons throughout the 2004 campaign on our Web site.
The real powers that be in this country are not on any ballot. And they are accountable to no one. The Buying of the President 2004 unmasks the powerful special interests behind our national politics today. The bottom line is that the American people have a right to know who is underwriting their presidential candidates, and their democracy.
Before taking your questions, I want to thank the extraordinary folks who made this book possible. I won’t thank all 53 people – check the book itself or the Center’s Web site. But special thanks to managing editor Bill Allison, deputy managing editor Teo Furtado, senior editor Alan Green, research editor Peter Smith, project manager Alex Knott, writers Robert Moore, Ben Coates, Mohammad Ismail, Laura Peterson and Brooke Williams, database editors Aron Pilhofer and Derek Willis, Web developer Han Nguyen, and senior researchers Aubrey Bruggeman, Daniel Lathrop, Katy Lewis and Adam Mayle. I won’t thank by name the 34 researchers, including the grad students in American University professor Wendell Cochran’s class, or the specific Center staff members who have helped in so many ways – but they are all listed in the book.
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