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The Buying Of The President

In this Reality Check, CBS News Correspondent Eric Engberg looks at the big-money interests stuffing the pockets of the top presidential contenders.



Whatever they say now, all four front-runners for the presidency got this far the old-fashioned way: squeezing big money from the rich special-interest groups.

The financial histories of Gore, Bradley, Bush and McCain -- as researched in a new book, The Buying of the President 2000, by the nonpartisan Center for Public Integrity (CPI) -- show how big-money interests invest in politicians' whole careers.

Unlike outright bribery, this cozying up to government officials is both legal and pervasive.

"If you read the law, its very squishy," says the CPI's Charles Lewis, "and it's hard to find out what would be against the law. That doesn't mean it doesn't smell to high heaven."

Al Gore's fund-raising exploits make him "Mr. Insider."


GORE: TOP CAREER PATRONS

  • Ernst and Young - $125,200
  • Bellsouth Corp. - $104,000
  • Goldman Sachs - $99,250
  • D.E. Shaw and Co. - $98,000
  • Citigroup Inc. - $91,950
  • Viacom - $89,750
Over his career, lobbyists and insiders have financed Gore's campaigns, led by Ernst and Young, accountant to corporate giants.

And when Gore pushes for computers in every school and no taxes on Internet business, it makes his Silicon Valley pals happy -- they've given $88,000 in just two years.

Bill Bradley's history shows him to be "Mr. Wall Street."


BRADLEY: TOP CAREER PATRONS

  • Citigroup - $454,065
  • Merrill Lynch - $169,500
  • Goldman Sachs - $148,800
  • Morgan Stanley Dean Whitter - $129,675
  • Time Warner - $112,770
  • Prudential Insurance - $102,601
He has gotten more than $1 million from investment companies. In the Senate, Bradley backed many investor-friendly tax measures, always claiming contributions had no effect.

On the Republican side, George W. Bush could be called, with a Texas twang, "The Bidness Guv."


BUSH: TOP CAREER PATRONS

  • Enron Corp. - $550,025
  • Sanchez Family - $320,150
  • Vinson and Elkins - $316,700
  • Hicks, Muse, Tate and Furst - $290,400
  • Bass Family - $273,937
His top backers have included oil and gas companies like Enron Corp. and Sanchez Family and law firms with big business clients, lik Vinson and Elkins.

Policies friendly to these interests -- like making compliance with clean-air standards voluntary, not mandatory -- have had Bush's backing. He insists the money has nothing to do with his decisions.

Only one of the front-runners, McCain, admits contributors have ever influenced him. "I have been influenced because big donors buy access," said the Republican senator from Arizona.

And the new book shows his money history is typical of a chairman of a powerful senate committee.


MCCAIN: TOP CAREER PATRONS

  • U.S. West - $107,520
  • Hensley and Co. - $80,300
  • AT&T - $72,250
  • Viacom, Inc. - $61,750
  • Boeing - $61,400
  • Bellsouth - $60,000
It's loaded with phone companies like U.S. West and Bellsouth and entertainment giants like Viacom; all with important business pending before McCain's commerce committee.

The Buying of the President notes that none of these candidates would have a chance if they weren't big fundraisers, because the system is rigged in favor of big money. And in politics, money now talks louder than anything.

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