The Barnes & Noble Review
The millennium presidential election will be the most obscenely expensive race in history. The two most popular presidential candidates each hoped to raise more than $100 million in 1999, the year before any votes are cast, and four times what the incumbent president, Bill Clinton, raised in 1995, which was then a record.
"As 96 percent of Americans do not contribute a dime to politicians or the two major political parties, our democracy is now sponsored by the vested economic interests who want favors from their elected officials. Furthermore, the candidates and their political parties are proficient at obscuring the sources and even the amounts of their campaign cash," says Charles Lewis, founder and executive director of the Center for Public Integrity and author of The Buying of the President 2000: The Authoritative Guide to the Big-Money Interests Behind This Year's Presidential Candidates.
When Lewis and the Center wrote The Buying Of The President in 1996, it was the first book ever written that tracked the relationships between major presidential candidates and their career patrons. The New Yorker called the book "an essential reference work" and "a Bible" for journalists and citizens nationwide. The Buying Of The President 2000 goes one step further, listing the top ten career patrons over the past decade not only for each candidate but for the two major political parties as well. In addition to the top ten career patrons the special interests bankrolling the presidential contenders the book includes a profile ofeverycandidate, with both notable accomplishments and not-so-well-known political accommodations made on the way to national prominence.
"No credible, major presidential candidate is immune from today's political exigencies and financial entanglements," says Lewis. His research indicates that only the candidates with substantial campaign war chests will be able to power through the dizzying, front-loaded primary schedule in early 2000. Who are the "big feet" financially to both parties? And how do these national political machines "service their donors"? More importantly, how do the relationships between candidates and contributors affect the daily lives of each and every American? Lewis answers these questions and more as The Buying Of The President 2000 shines a spotlight on the special (and often secret) interests that have heavily invested in the politicians seeking the nation's highest office.
Lewis, a former investigative reporter for ABC News, as well as a former "60 Minutes" producer, has been called "a watchdog in the corridors of power" by the National Journal. In The Buying Of The President 2000, Lewis and the Center for Public Integrity have undertaken the most elaborate investigative reporting project ever surrounding a presidential campaign, culling revealing, hard-hitting facts from mountains of federal and state public records on how these candidates are influenced by money and special interests and focusing on the quid pro quo relationship between candidates and their contributors. The book looks at, among others, Al Gore Jr., Bill Bradley, George W. Bush, John McCain, Steve Forbes, Pat Buchanan, and Gary Bauer.
The Buying Of The President 2000, answers such questions as: What candidate made $15 million in a deal arranged by top political patrons? Who turned his campaign into a gravy train for himself and members of his family? Who became a millionaire with a series of by-invitation-only investment deals?
The Buying Of The President 2000 sheds light on the dark secrets in the candidates' closets and is essential reading for every voter who wants to understand the real power behind the candidates.
Read an Excerpt
The Democratic Party
Donald Fowler, the national chairman of the Democratic National Committee, was summoned to the family quarters of the White House on September 10, 1995, for a nine p.m, meeting with President Bill Clinton, Vice President Albert Gore, Jr., White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta, and Deputy Chief of Staff Harold Ickes, among others.
Fowler had become the chairman of the DNC the previous January, not long after the Democrats' shellacking in the 1994 mid-term elections, While leading his party, Fowlerin the backdoor tradition of half the political party chairmen since 1977was simultaneously working as a registered lobbyist for various corporate interests. One of his biggest clients: Chem-Nuclear Systems, Inc., a nuclear-waste disposal company that he's represented in his native South Carolina and in Illinois. "I started representing them in December 1979," Fowler told the Center for Public Integrity. "I was just about ready to leave the state [Democratic Party] chair's job here [in South Carolina]. I've been on their dole since then."
Chem-Nuclear's investment in Fowler and other lobbyists (about $350,000 in all, including generous campaign contributions to South Carolina lawmakers) paid off big in 1995, when the state legislature agreed to open the company's nuclear-waste landfill in Barnwell to the entire nation for up to ten years. The deal was "spun" by the company's lobbyists as a boost for education, inasmuch as the nuclear-waste disposal fees paid by Chem-Nuclear to the state were to be earmarked for scholarships and school construction. Fowler acknowledged in the interview that the low-levelradioactive waste business is "controversial" and also admitted, referring to his lobbying activities while chairman, that he was "surprised that more of that didn't come up in the various hearings and depositions." He said, "My private business concerns never became an issue while I was there, and really haven't since."
That night at the White House, however, Fowler wasn't being called on the carpet for his mercenary moonlighting. Indeed, his activities as a lobbyist were known and accepted. ("Party chairs," he told the Center, "have historically done that.") No, tonight Fowler was being asked to go along with an unprecedented scheme to route tens of millions of dollars in private "soft money" contributions through the Democratic Party for use in a nationwide TV advertising blitz on behalf of the President. Federal law forbids using party funds in this manner for a presidential election campaign, and before 1996, no incumbent President had ever pushed the envelope so near to-or pastthe legal limits.
Such a desperate measure reflected Clinton's precarious political situation. Beset by scandal almost from the moment he'd taken the oath of office, Clinton had seen his chief legislative initiative, health-care reform, die in 1994. And in November of that year, the Democrats had lost eight seats in the Senate and fifty-two seats in the House of Representatives, giving the Republicans control of Congress for the first time in forty years.
Clinton, then, was beginning to look like a one-term President. He secretly turned to political consultant Dick Morris, an old ally and political lifesaver from his Arkansas gubernatorial days. In March 1995, Morris recommended a $40 million paid media campaign that would hit 43 percent of the U.S. population, to begin as soon as possible. Clinton and his advisers toyed with the idea of forgoing federal matching funds and the strict spending limits that come with them, but they ultimately rejected that option as impractical politically. it was also clear, however, that the presidential campaign spending limits precluded an aggressive paid media campaign on behalf of Clinton a full year before the election. Both Morris and Ickes, to this day, remain proud of their solution to the problem: to use soft-money funds routed through the Democratic Party to pay for "issue advertising," thus circumventing federal election laws. That way, the President's image could be refurbished without drawing down his campaign war chest for 1996.
No one at the White House meeting that night questioned the idea of bending the law in this way for political advantage. Hand-wringing over issues of ethics, in fact, has not exactly been a hallmark of the Clinton Administration, to put it charitably. Moreover, the participants had been advised that the ploy was legal. All the President and his White House team needed now was Fowler's expected acquiescence, since the Democratic Party would be the pretext and the conduit for the money scheme. He didn't disappoint them. As Fowler later testified in his Senate deposition, the advertising "was to be funded by the party, but it would focus on the President's program for the party and what he had done . . . There was a general consensus that this was a good idea."
Weeks later, at a fund-raising dinner at the posh Hay-Adams Hotel in Washington, Clinton proudly described the scheme. "We realized that we could run these ads through the Democratic Party, which meant that we could raise money in twenty and fifty and hundred-thousand-dollar lots, and we didn't have to do it all in thousand-dollar [lots]," he said. "And run downyou knowwhat I can spend, which is limited by law. So that's what we've done."
Many of the excesses of the 1996 presidential campaign, we now know, were directly related to this conscious decision by the President, the Vice President, their White House and campaign aides, and the Democratic Party to subvert the nation's existing campaign-finance laws. The only way to raise such huge sums of cash, everyone knew, would be for the President and Vice President to get personally involved in fund raising, even by making cold calls from within the White House itself.