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USA: Oil Corporations Woo Democrats

Associated Press
August 14th, 2000

LOS ANGELES -- Oil, gas and mining interests are throwing a blues bash for Rep. John Dingell. Heavy-hitters Texaco and Bristol-Myers Squibb are among 24 companies picking up the tab for an extravagant Mardi Gras-like celebration for Louisiana Sen. John Breaux. Insurance giant Transamerica is opening its corporate suite for Rep. Charles Rangel.

While Democrats will be partying all across Tinseltown this week, these events go far beyond typical convention-week soirees. Each is aimed at the Democrat who would take over a key committee if the party managed to regain control of Congress in the November elections.

Each is underwritten by special interests whose business is affected by those committees.

''I am certain that was a factor,'' said Daphne Magnuson, a spokeswoman for the American Gas Association, which is co-sponsoring the reception for Dingell, the senior Democrat on the House Commerce Committee, whose oversight includes the energy, health and telecommunications industries.

Joining the gas group in sponsoring the event at the House of Blues is the Edison Electric Institute, National Mining Association and Nuclear Energy Institute.

In the game of goodwill sowing, the Democratic convention provides corporate America an unparalleled chance to hedge its bets -- just in case Democrats gain six seats in the House or five seats in the Senate and take over Capitol Hill again.

''If the Democrats retake control of Congress, then everyone will be their friend,'' said Larry Makinson, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group that tracks campaign finance. ''But being their friend before they take control probably wins you a special place in their heart.''

A leading Senate advocate of changing campaign finance laws, Democrat Russell Feingold of Wisconsin, criticized the special-interest bashes.

''The Democratic Party is supposed to be the party of Jefferson, the party of Jackson, not the party of the big monied interests,'' Feingold told hundreds of activists gathered just a few blocks away from the Democratic convention site for the alternative Shadow Convention. ''The real story at the Democratic convention is legalized bribery and influence peddling.''

Nevertheless, many of Feingold's Democratic colleagues are basking in the attention.

Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., the top Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, is to be feted Wednesday at a breakfast co-sponsored by the 2.5 million-member National Education Association, the nation's largest teachers' union.

''He has been a longtime supporter of public education,'' NEA spokeswoman Becky Fleischauer said of Kennedy, winner of the union's Friend of Education award this year.

Likewise, Enron, an energy and communications company, has taken over a room in a Santa Monica hotel Tuesday to honor Sen. Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, top Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Bingaman would ascend to the chairmanship if his party recaptures the majority. He backs Enron's efforts to deregulate the electric industry.

''We want to make sure Mr. Bingaman knows what our position is, and I think he supports that position too,'' Enron spokesman Mark Palmer said. ''We want people to know what we stand for.''

Two-dozen corporations have signed on to co-sponsor a salute to Breaux, in line to chair a subcommittee of the Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over health, trade and taxes.

Helping to sponsor ''Mardi Gras Goes Hollywood,'' scheduled for Tuesday night on the same Paramount Studios lot where the TV series ''NYPD Blue'' and ''Ally McBeal'' are filmed, are the tobacco company Brown & Williamson, drug maker Bristol-Myers Squibb and oil company Texaco.

Jambalaya and gumbo will be on the menu, a procession of Mardi Gras floats will parade through the streets, and a zydeco band will supply the musical accompaniment.

One of the more active lawmakers will be Rangel, D-N.Y., who would take control of the House Ways and Means Committee if Democrats recapture the House.

Transamerica is the sole sponsor of a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee celebration in Rangel's honor. The insurance company will host the late-afternoon gathering Wednesday at its Los Angeles offices. Rangel also was feted at a separate reception Sunday.

In addition, former U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor plans to host a fund-raiser for Rangel this week. Kantor now works for the lawyer-lobbying firm of Mayer, Brown & Platt, whose clients include Aetna, America Online and General Electric.

Rangel's chief of staff, Jim Capel, said the lawmaker is being honored ''because of his effectiveness as a legislator and the leadership he provides in the Congress,'' not because he is in line to take over a top committee.

Copyright 2000 The New York Times Company





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