When the E&J Gallo winery needed some political muscle to ease
federal regulations on champagne, the giant California winemaker
called on a senator from Kansas for help.
Bob Dole, then the Senate Republican leader, responded by
pressuring President George Bush's administration in 1992 to
abandon a proposed crackdown on labeling standards and permit Gallo
to sell its inexpensive sparkling wines as "Charmat method"
champagne, according to interviews and newly obtained documents.
Gallo eventually prevailed, as it often has in Washington over
the last decade on issues ranging from tax legislation to trade -
usually with Dole's help.
Dole's Biggest Backer
So, why has Dole, who vigorously represented the interests of
Midwestern corn and wheat farmers in his 35 years in Congress, come
to the aid of a grape grower in Modesto, Calif.?
A spokeswoman for Dole said the former Senate majority leader,
who reti red in June to run full time for president, was standing
up for what he believes in and acting in the government's best
Another explanation could come from federal election records:
Since 1986, Ernest Gallo and his family have pumped more money in
individual contributions into Dole's political campaigns - $274,000
- than anyone from Kansas or anywhere else. The Gallos also have
donated at least $705,000 to Dole's organization, the Dole
Foundation, a tax-exempt charitable group that provides job
opportunities for disabled people.
"This is as garish an example of a politician helping a special
interest that I have seen in my 20 years in Washington," said
Charles Lewis, author of "The Buying of the President" and director
of the nonpartisan Center For Public Integrity. "If this isn't a
quid pro quo, what is?"
Many Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill provide special
favors for their largest financial supporters.
But Dole was extraordinarily well-positioned in Congress to
deliver for big business. He served as Senate majority leader for
four years, as minority leader for eight and as a member and
chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.
Since 1980, Dole has solicited $103.4 million to bankroll his
various political pursuits, as well as a charitable foundation and
his own conservative think tank. In addition, special interests
have contributed corporate jets to fly Dole around 538 times in the
last six years.
When asked during the first presidential debate how he avoids
being influenced by campaign donors, Dole said: "I think it's very
difficult. Let's be honest about it. That's why we need campaign
Dole declined to be interviewed for this story. His campaign
spokeswoman, Christina Martin, said Dole had "never been shy about
taking on powerful corporate interests. …