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Al Gore: Friend of Corporate America

by Bill MeslerSpecial to CorpWatch
September 8th, 2000

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Al Gore has raised more money than any other Democratic presidential candidate in history. But his pandering to rich and powerful comes at a cost to the public.

WASHINGTON, DC -- Molten Metal Technology was a company bound to fail. For thirty years a succession of others had tried what the company hoped to do: reprocess nuclear waste into non-radioactive metals that could be remarketed. None succeeded.

Molten Metal never did manage to reprocess nuclear waste. But it sure made a lot of money trying. During the Clinton administration, the company received $27 million in research grants from the Department of Energy--more than all 17 other companies that applied for the same grants received combined. Despite a 1995 DOE report that reprocessing would not work, the contracts continued all the way up until the company went finally went bust in 1997.

It might not have made sense from a scientific or business standpoint. But it made a lot of sense to the money-men that run the Democratic party. The company was one of the first donors to the Clinton/Gore campaign in 1996, for which they received a thank you note from the presidential ticket's campaign manager Peter Knight. The note underscored that the company had earned "a special place of significance with the Vice President." The Molten Metal was also paying Knight an $84,000-a-year retainer at the time.

Less than two weeks before the donation, Gore had visited a Molten Metal factory in Falls River, Massachusetts, where he told reporters: "Molten Metal is a success story, a shining example of American ingenuity, hard work and business know-how."

When he accepted the Democratic nomination last month, Al Gore told the nation that he wants to be president to take on "big tobacco, big oil, the big polluters, the pharmaceutical companies, the H.M.O.s." As the Democratic Candidate turns to populist rhetoric to win the election, it is worth noting that corporate America isn't exactly shaking in its boots at the prospect of a Gore presidency. In fact, he has long been known in the White House as "Solicitor in Chief" for his fundraising prowess.

The story of Molten Metal, and the numerous other corporate Democratic donors who have received preferential treatment from the administration, shows that corporate welfare is alive and well in Washington. And the money pouring into Al Gore's campaign war chest ($52 million so-far and growing fast) shows that corporate America knows it has a friend in Al Gore. He has already raised more money than any other Democratic presidential candidate in history. Perhaps even more telling, the Democratic party itself has almost achieved parity with Republicans in soft money.

"When you look at Clinton and Gore in particular, you have to see them in terms of their success in raising huge amounts of money for their campaigns," says Peter Eisner, managing director of the Center for Public Integrity. "The Clinton administration and Gore are part of a system that infects both parties that allows corporate influence to gain access to the halls of power and distort our political process."

The money has been pouring in from all kinds of corporate special interests. There is money from high-tech firms which don't want to be taxed. There is money from banks and securities brokers appreciative of the administration's deregulation of the finance industry. Even the Democratic convention was financed by a host of corporate-welfare-fattened telecom giants like AT&T (which gave $1 million to both the Democratic and GOP conventions), union-buster Sprint and BellSouth.

As one health care industry lobbyist, gushing over the selection of Joe Lieberman as running mate, told the New York Times, the Gore/Lieberman ticket was only feigning populism "as a political ploy." When he's not campaigning, Gore's heart is with the money in corporate America.


Telecom Giants

Of the numerous corporate interests behind Al Gore, none have ponied up as much dough as the communications and high tech sector. The industry gave $10 million to Gore and the Democrats (ten percent of the total to date) have raised some eyebrows as to what exactly it is buying. So has the $98 million the industry spent on lobbying last year. Some of it is a reward for services rendered: telephone companies have had relatively free reign to merge and have seen little regulation. "The industry got what it wanted [under Clinton Gore]," David Beckwith, spokesman for the National Cable Television Association, recently told the Associated Press.

Take Gore's ugly treatment of 235 phone workers fired by Sprint for attempting to unionize in 1998. The AFL-CIO called the case one of the decade's most blatant violations of workers' right to unionize. At a meeting with the mostly Latina workers in Los Angeles, Gore promised to take on Sprint. But Sprint, led by arch-conservative Bill Esrey, had been a big supporter of Clinton/Gore in 1996 and was gearing up to support Gore in 2000. Esrey had even told a group of business leaders during the 1996 campaign that "There is a growing realization that Democrat Bill Clinton has been good for America."

Gore never lifted a finger against the company. And Sprint continues to provide the White House with much of its long-distance service. Gore even used his influence to soften a Labor Department report on the Sprint dispute, according to one of the report's authors. The National Labor Relations Board eventually ruled in favor of the workers, but the company has bogged the decision down in appeals.


Selling Off the Internet

Meanwhile the prize high tech companies are fighting for is the future of the Internet itself. And although Al Gore didn't invent the Internet, he could down in history as the president who gave it away.

Today the Internet is one of the most democratic forms of media around. Everyone pays the same to post their sites and websites receive relatively the same service. Consumer advocates say big conglomerates are seizing control of the Net.

"The industry wants to be able to decide who gets on the fast pipe and the slow pipe with impunity," says Consumer Project on Technology director Jamie Love. "It raises profound issues, changing the open-access character of the Internet."

The only answer is regulation, but Gore has come down decidedly against Internet regulation -- and against taxing Internet transactions. The Gore campaign website says one of the priorities of president Gore will be pursuing "an international agreement to make 'cyberspace' a permanent 'duty-free zone,' so that U.S. companies can sell goods around the world, via the Internet, without duties."

Gore has even come down on the wrong side when it comes to the administration's biggest anti-corporate crime success, the prosecution of Microsoft. Most Americans see the company as a target of the Clinton administration. But some close to the case say the real architect of anti-monopoly proceedings was Attorney General Janet Reno, who proceeded with the investigation despite objections from the White House. The Administration, for its part, publicly called for a negotiated settlement every step of the way. So far Microsoft has given the Gore campaign and the DNC $391,000 in the current election cycle.


Cable and Multi-Media

Another industry buying a place at the Gore table is the cable industry. Their generosity helped pave the way for increased mega-mergers, which have met little opposition from the administration. "A lot of money has been spent to influence these decisions," says Gary Larson, a telecom consultant for the Center for Media Education. "With the introduction of cable broadband, you can say 'gee we are getting 60 channels.' But in reality it is the illusion of choice." He explains. " Fewer and fewer companies are providing the content you watch. You are getting a larger menu from the same restaurant."

Cable companies have grown brazenly monopolistic under the current administration, as evidenced by Time/Warner's recent blacking out ABC from entire regions over a financial dispute.

Multi-media provider Disney has also been a big supporter of Gore. Responding to a request from Tipper, the company provided the Vice President and his wife with free Holloween costumes worth $8,600, in violation of the Ethics in Government Act. When the costumes were reported in the Washington Post, Disney was repaid by the Democratic National Committee. Later Gore and Disney chairman Michael Eisner were regularly seen chumming it up in Washington while the company was seeking Interior Department approval for a new theme park. "Disney's America," was set to open next to the Bull Run battlefield in Manassas Virginia, but the plan was nixed by Disney as it became clear the community wouldn't stand for it.

But the oddest part of the Disney/Gore alliance was yet to come. Disney-known for it's "family" image -- enlisted the Vice President's help fighting the 1998 Child Online Protection Act, designed to limit children's access to pornographic websites. Gore, who called for censoring rock lyrics in the 1980's, dispatched domestic policy advisor David Bier, to kill the legislation. After the beating Disney and Gore took in the press when the story finally emerged, the Vice President tried to help the company's p.r. situation by inviting Disney executives to the White House for "a summit on Internet pornography."


Gore Picks a Friend of Big Business

The selection of Joe Lieberman as number two on the Democratic ticket should reassure corporate America. Especially the health care industry, a big Lieberman backers over the years. Lieberman did the industry a service by helping to defeat universal health coverage. The Senator drafted his own less-ambitious plan to counter the White House, helping to split the Democratic party and ensure that nothing be done.

Lieberman's selection should also solidify Gore's already strong support among banks and securities houses. Not only has the administration done nothing to curb currency speculation abuses, new legislation has made it easier for industry mergers. Goldman Sachs pushed for the new rules. They've been big contributors to both Gore's presidential campaign and Lieberman's senate campaign (he had already raised $3.3 million despite facing almost no opposition).

Arms manufacturers were another group that surely applauded Gore's choice for his running mate. While disarmament groups actually had high hopes for Lieberman when he was first elected to the Senate in 1989, he has since turned into one of the Senate's most hawkish democrats. He was one of only five (along with Al Gore) to vote in favor of the Gulf War. He has also consistently opposed arms cuts and cuts in the intelligence budget (he has also voted to keep the intelligence budget secret). He has voted in favor of the unnecessary F-22 fighter; new Connecticut "Sea Wolf" attack submarines which are almost totally useless in modern warfare; and for the Star Wars ballistic missile defense program.

"Lieberman's motivation is basically the need to protect defense jobs in Connecticut," says Council for a Livable World analyst Dan Koslofsky. "He understood that when the cold war was going on these jobs were safe. Once the cold war ended he realized this pot of gold might not be there, he became more hawkish."

According to one Congressional staffer, Lieberman is the reason a large contingent of Connecticut-made Blackhawk helicopters were included in the administration's recent Colombian military aid package. General Dynamics, the makers of the Blackhawk, have been big supporters of Lieberman over the years, giving him $24,500 for his Senate campaign this year.

"Colombia doesn't even have enough hangers to deal with these helicopters," says Koslofsky. "Most of them are going to just sit around." With his brazen peddling of corporate interests, Lieberman should make the perfect match for Al Gore. You might say they deserve each other.

Bill Mesler is a Washington-based reporter. His work has appeared in the Nation, Mother Jones and the Progressive, among other publications.