Money Talks

By Motavalli, Jim; Miller, Ellen | E Magazine, September-October 1996 | Go to article overview

Money Talks


Motavalli, Jim, Miller, Ellen, E Magazine


The Anti-Environmentalists in the 104th Congress Feed at the Corporate Cash Trough

Senator Slade Gorton (R-Washington) has an almost perfect record of supporting the timber industry. Is it at all surprising, then, that he received $112,000 in campaign contributions from timber-harvesting political action committees (PACs) between 1987 and 1995? In fact, the timber industry has invested more than five times as much political cash in trying to influence reauthorization of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) as has the entire environmental movement.

Oklahoma Congressman Bill Brewster was the Oil Marketing Association's "Legislator of the Year" when he served in the state House. And in 1990, when he ran for Congress, it was oil money - $39,000 of it, from such giants as Amoco, Atlantic Richfield, Exxon, Shell, Sun and Texaco - that, as The American Prospect describes it, "pushed Bill Brewster over the top." He also had help from a whole host of individual $1,000 contributions connected to an Oklahoma oilman (who later pied guilty to campaign finance fraud). Guess how Brewster votes when oil issues come up before his powerful Ways and Means Committee?

Though our elected representatives profess to vote their consciences, guided by their constituents' interests, other, unseen forces exert powerful pressure. No matter what the people want, when it costs $500,000 to run a successful campaign for the House of Representatives, and $37 million to win a presidential primary, cash contributors will have the upper hand.

The timber, oil, gas, chemical and mining industries have left quite a money trail. During the first half of 1995 alone, industries whose legislative priorities include weakening environmental protections gave members of Congress over $6.1 million, with 81 percent going to Republicans. In contrast, all environmental groups combined gave less than $2,000 in the same period!

As for clean water, a group of mining, oil, gas and chemical corporations have tried to weaken the Clean Water Act by giving to 267 "Dirty Water PACs." They aim to gut protections of wetlands, cut funds allocated for pollution enforcement and drinking water standards, and require the public to pay them for not discharging pollutants into our waterways. The PACs contributed over $57 million to candidates between 1989 and 1994, according to The Sierra Club.

Timber companies are triumphant as old-growth forests come tumbling down. In the summer of 1995, Congress passed - and President Clinton signed - the Emergency Salvage Timber Sale Program, which was sponsored by Senator Gorton. The law has given the timber industry the right to log previously protected trees in the national forest system. With less than four percent of our nation's ancient and old-growth forest still surviving, the law put much of the virgin forest, including dwindling stands of 2,000-year-old redwoods, at great risk of becoming tract house decking. Was there a quid pro quo? Timber company PACs have given $448,711 to Congress during 1995, with 89 percent going to Republicans.

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska has been described as "America's Serengeti" because of the richness of the wildlife there. The refuge has been protected - as is 10 percent of Alaska's Arctic coastline - from oil drilling. But if Alaska's Senators, Frank Murkowski and Ted Stevens, both Republicans, have their way, those protections will be lifted. Over the past six years, Murkowski received $122,835 and Stevens $90,425 from oil PACs.

Big Oil's Big Money

When it comes to Congress, oil companies have a long history of getting a good return for their dollar. In 1992, the oil industry contributed over $23 million to congressional candidates, via PAC funds, individual donations and "soft money" funnelled to the two national parties. In return, the industry received over $8.8 billion from the government in "corporate welfare" subsidies and tax breaks. …

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