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US: The Corporate Conservative Administration

by Russell Mokhiber and Robert WeissmanFocus on the Corporation
January 11th, 2001

Compassionate conservativism?

Try corporate conservativism. It's corporate conservatism that is going to be the defining feature of the Bush White House.

Pushing beyond the corporate corrupting frontiers blazed by the Clinton administration, the Bush team is making clear that it intends to deliver on its campaign promises to strengthen Big Business's grip over government policy-making.

The Bush cabinet is drawing on corporate executives as much or more than any previous administration. Andrew Card, set to be Bush's chief of staff, moves to the White House from a posting as General Motors vice president. Previous to that position, he ran the auto industry's lobby shop. Bush has tapped Paul O'Neill, chair of Alcoa, to head his Treasury Department. Bush crony Don Evans, the Commerce Secretary-designee, is CEO of Tom Brown, Inc., an oil company. Donald Rumsfeld, the Bush nominee to head the Pentagon, is former CEO of G.D. Searle and of General Instrument, and has held a variety of other top corporate posts. Bush's nominee for Veterans Affairs Secretary, Anthony Principi, is president of a wireless telecommunications company. National Security Adviser-designate Condoleeza Rice is a member of the board of directors of Chevron (which has christened an oil tanker, the Condoleeza Rice) and Charles Schwab, and is a member of J.P. Morgan's International Advisory Council.

Of course, both George W. Bush and Dick Cheney (CEO of Haliburton, the oil services firm) themselves both come from the oil industry.

Bush's transition team is dominated by high donors and corporate interests. Of the 474 individuals on the transition team, 261 made political contributions during the last election cycle, the Center for Responsive Politics reports -- and 95 percent of the $5.3 million they contributed went to Republican candidates or the Republican Party.

Even more telling is the overwhelming corporate background of the transition team members.

The transition team for the Department of Energy, for example, is almost exclusively made up of people affiliated with or working for the extractive energy industry. Companies and outfits represented include: Phillips Petroleum, Enron, Kennecott, Southern California Edison, the National Mining Association and the Nuclear Energy Institute.

For the Department of Health and Human Services transition, the drug, biotech, insurance and hospital industries are set to have their way. The transition team includes representatives from Merck, the American Hospital Association, Mutual of Omaha, BIO (the biotech trade group), Ernst and Young and the National Association of Health Underwriters.

On the Department of Labor transition team, you find two members of the Teamsters, and no other labor-affiliated representatives. Instead, the transition team comes from Union Pacific, the National Restaurant Association, the American Trucking Association, the National Mining Association, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Society of Human Resource Managers.

It's unlikely that the transition team members -- at least as a body -- had much influence over Bush's cabinet appointments, but they may well have significant sway in the hiring of second- and third-tier officials. These are the people who get their hands dirty on policy details, and can deliver the goodies to the corporate paymasters.

More ceremonial posts are being parceled out with a machine-like efficiency to high donors and top fundraisers.

Inaugural Committee Co-Chairs Bill and Kathy DeWitt and Mercer and Gabrielle Reynolds come from the Cincinnati-based investment firm Reynolds, DeWitt and Company. Bill DeWitt and Gabrielle Reynolds were co-chairs of the Ohio Bush-Cheney Finance Committee. Other members of the inaugural committee sport similar resumes.

Following in the Clinton-Gore footsteps, Bush-Cheney are soliciting private funds for the inauguration. While Clinton-Gore at least restricted the donations to $100 or less, however, Bush-Cheney are banking on major donors. More than 50 individuals have each contributed $100,000 or more to the inauguration committee.

Bush's economic summit, held earlier this month in Austin, was actually a get-together with business leaders. The Austin meeting featured 36 top corporate executives, including such major Republican donors as Kenneth Lay of Enron, John T. Chambers of Cisco and Michael Dell of Dell Computer.

As you would imagine, this turn of events has corporate American dancing in the streets. "They are happy, certainly," Jim Albertine, president of the American League of Lobbyists, told the Boston Globe, speaking of his association's members. "There is a strong belief that a lot of things will be reopened."





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