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Campaign Finance Reform Foes Lott and McConnell Delivered for Republican Soft Money Donors in 1998-99

Oct. 15, 1999

Campaign Finance Reform Foes Lott and McConnell Delivered for Republican Soft Money Donors in 1998-99

McConnell’s Challenge to Reformers to Prove “Who is corrupted?” Answered; New Report Reveals Senate Republican Leaders’ Legislative Favors for
Managed Care, Casino Gambling, Tobacco Interests

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A new Public Citizen report — Delivering for Dollars — documents how Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and Senate campaign committee chief Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have worked legislatively over the past two years with great success on behalf of three major industries — managed care, casino gambling and tobacco. At the same time the report documents how all three industries have donated huge amounts of soft money to Republican Party fund-raising committees that Lott and McConnell were deeply involved with and benefited from.

As the U.S. Senate debates campaign finance reform, only Lott and McConnell, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), stand in the way of enacting a ban on soft money. They are poised to lead their fourth minority filibuster in two years against the McCain-Feingold bill (S. 1593), which would ban soft money — those unlimited contributions to political parties from corporations, labor unions and wealthy individuals.

Delivering for Dollars illustrates in very concrete terms why Lott and McConnell so vigorously oppose this legislation. The report answers the basic question posed by McConnell Thursday in the Senate floor debate on the McCain-Feingold bill: “Who is corrupted?” Among the report’s findings are:

* Since 1995, the three national Republican fund-raising committees raked in $30 million in soft money from managed care, casino gambling and tobacco interests while Democratic committees collected $11 million. With significant help from Lott and McConnell, soft money given to the Republicans by the managed care industry rose from $5.4 million to $6.1 million between the 1995-96 election cycle and the 1997-98 cycle, while soft money from casino interests increased from $1.8 million to $2.4 million.

* Soft money contributions to the NRSC from two of these industry groups rose even faster between the 1996 and 1998 election cycles — from $1.1 million to $1.8 million for managed care and from $440,000 to $1.3 million for casinos. Tobacco industry soft money contributions, while still high, declined between the two election cycles from $1.7 million in 1996 to $1.1 million in 1998 — a normal occurrence as fund-raising in presidential elections is considerably higher.

* Beginning in late 1997, Lott was the key Senate Republican working closely with managed care, insurance and employer organizations that were resisting new “patients’ rights” mandates. Lott encouraged these groups to lobby Congress, orchestrated the development of a weak Senate Republican patients’ rights bill and mobilized almost unanimous Republican support in key votes in October 1998 and July 1999.

* In the spring of 1998, working with the American Gaming Association (AGA), the casino gambling lobby, Lott and McConnell prevented Senate debate on an amendment by Sen. Dan Coats that would have eliminated a federal tax deduction for gambling losses. Lott also played the central role in passage by Congress, without debate, of a $316 million tax break for the casino industry supported by the AGA. In November 1997, Lott and McConnell flew to Las Vegas aboard Mirage Resorts Chairman Steve Wynn’s corporate jet for a series of AGA-sponsored fund-raising events, which kicked off a fund-raising bonanza that raised $951,000 by June 1998.    

* In June 1998, Lott and McConnell, working with tobacco industry representatives, killed the McCain tobacco control bill. Lott, reassured by McConnell that the tobacco industry would run ads defending GOP senators who voted against the bill, found the additional Republican votes necessary to kill the legislation.

Delivering for Dollars provides a detailed description and chronology of events undertaken by Lott and McConnell on behalf of the three industries.

“Only by ending the scandal of soft money will there be a chance to break up the cozy working relationship between well-heeled special interests and their powerful allies in Congress who determine whether a hearing on legislation occurs, whether a bill gets put on the floor for debate, whether a special deal gets quietly inserted into legislation without public discussion, or whether a massive campaign is coordinated with outside interests to quash a bill that is no longer to the liking of a political party’s benefactors,” said Frank Clemente, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch. Public Citizen is a consumer advocacy organization founded by Ralph Nader.

“This unholy alliance — one that essentially delivers favors for dollars — must be stopped. There are only two individuals who stand in the way — Senators Lott and McConnell. Their tireless efforts to block campaign finance reform are the ultimate acts of delivering for dollars,” Clemente said.