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Action Center

May 18, 1998

Statement of Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook on ISTEA Bill

Safety Advocates Urge Conferees to Put People Before Pork

Good afternoon — I m Joan Claybrook, President of Public Citizen and Board Member of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. In two hours from now, House and Senate Members of the ISTEA Conference Committee will meet to determine the future of safety on our highways.

The President should only sign an ISTEA bill if it includes measures to seriously reduce drunk driving deaths, increase safety belt use significantly, advance truck safety and improve air bag safety.

Wealthy corporate interests are using their political muscle to carve out special provisions in the bill, but too many of us here today know the tragedies that occur when Congress puts pork before people and campaign cash before care for consumers.

Our campaign finance system of legalized bribery lets any special interest give political parties as much as it thinks it will take to buy influence in Congress. That s why this bill is full of corporate handouts. That s why this bill has so many special interest provisions granting corporations exemptions from safety requirements. That s why this bill threatens to produce more victims of drunk driving, more people killed by poorly-designed air bags, and more people crushed by huge trucks. That s why this legislation has a big “For Sale” sign in front of it.

In the 1995-1996 election cycle, auto interests gave $2.6 million to the political parties and spent $8.8 million on individual contributions and contributions to PACs. General Motors alone gave $527,000. Now the auto industry is using its access to Members of Congress in an attempt to delay the improvement of air bag systems and evade firm deadlines for the upgrade of safety standards proposed in this bill.

In the 1995-1996 election cycle, trucking interests gave $2.3 million to the parties. This bill gives exemptions to safety laws for overweight trucks in Maine, New Hampshire, Colorado, Louisiana and South Carolina. Another special provision allows the transportation of unmarked agricultural hazardous material such as up to 16,094 pounds of ammonium nitrate fertilizer — more than four times the amount of nitrate fertilizer used in the Oklahoma City bombing.

That election cycle also saw the alcohol industry give $4.3 million in individual and PAC contributions, and National Restaurant Association give $943,000. The alcohol industry gave $2.5 million in soft money while the restaurant industry gave $1.1 million in the 1995-1996 cycle, and in 1997 alone, alcohol interests gave over $900,000 to the political parties. Today those industries are lobbying to prevent the Senate bill s proposal to push states to reduce the legal Blood Alcohol Limit to .08, a life-saving measure backed by doctors, nurses, consumer and safety organizations, insurers, and the police.

In 1997, the alcohol industry spent over $4.6 million lobbying Congress and the Executive branches, while auto manufacturers and dealers spent over $23.8 million lobbying Congress and the Executive.

Will the millions of dollars of special interest money lavished on this bill be enough to lower vital safety standards, or will Members learn from those here today what happens when money and pork come first and people come last?