The Bush Money Machine - George W. Rakes It in with a Little Help on the Q.T. from His (and Daddy's) Pals

Article excerpt

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-rope-lined 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. …