People who have given money to Gov. George W. Bush come from all
walks of life, from multimillionaire business-men to the auto
mechanic who can barely scrape together a $100 contribution.
Collectively, though, political donations from people who helped
elect the Texas governor reveal a certain reliance on the state's
biggest businesses - energy, agriculture, banking, and, of course,
lawyers and lobbyists.
While many analysts are poring over contributions to Governor
Bush's presidential campaign, a close look at fund-raising during
his 1994 and 1998 gubernatorial races also provides a revealing
glimpse at the interests that helped to put Bush in office.
Take Lonnie "Bo" Pilgrim, whose Pilgrim's Pride Inc., has drawn
some $500,000 in pollution fines over the past decade. He gave
Bush's gubernatorial campaign $125,000. Currently, his firm seeks a
permit to inject 500 gallons a minute of chicken wastewater into
underground wells around Pittsburg, Texas.
Or Kenneth Lay, chief executive officer of the Enron Corp., who
helped make the once-sleepy Houston-based energy company into a
world power. He gave $122,000 to Bush's gubernatorial campaigns,
$1,000 to Bush's presidential campaign, and is now encouraging
dozens of friends, family members, and employees to give Bush the
$1,000 federal limit themselves.
More typical is the check from Weldon Willig, a high school
football coach from The Woodlands, Texas. He gave $100.
With friends like these - and 170,000 other donors - Bush has
become the top fund-raising candidate in American history. As
"master of the universe" of Texas's - and now America's - fund-
raising system, Bush's campaigns raised a combined $108 million for
his gubernatorial and presidential bids since 1994.
His backers and some independent political analysts say such
broad-based fund-raising inoculates him from charges that big donors
get something more for their money than the sought-after "access."
"He's not at the mercy of a single group of contributors because
his universe of contributors is so vast," says Harvey Kronberg,
editor of the Quorum Report, a state political newsletter. "I know
too many people who gave $100,000 contributions to Bush but couldn't
get something from him when he became governor."
The quid-pro-quo perception
But there is also a large contingent of people who argue that big
donors expect - and sometimes get - special consideration from
politicians they have supported financially. And the Bush campaign,
because of its mammoth reach and its heavy reliance on big business,
epitomizes what's wrong with the campaign-finance system, some say.
"These contributors do have a special economic interest in seeing
George W. Bush become president," says Craig McDonald, director of
Texans for Public Justice, a liberal watchdog group in Austin that
has analyzed donors to Bush's gubernatorial campaigns. "They'll say
... they don't have an interest in policy [such as tax breaks or
eased regulations]. But the truth is they do."
According to the Texans for Public Justice analysis, donations
from 1,000 corporate executives accounted for nearly half of all
Bush's gubernatorial campaign funds. (See chart, above.) That
concentration of donor power is worrisome to many.
In states that allow large individual contributions or that have
no contribution limits at all, as in Texas, "the lack of limits ...
gives those top contributors an immense amount of power," says
Samantha Sanchez, co-director of the National Institute on Money in
State Politics, based in Helena, Mont. …