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Big contributors to GOP reap big post-election rewards
by Jim Drinkard,    USA Today
Entered into the database on Saturday, July 02nd, 2005 @ 10:27:32 MST


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WASHINGTON — Just six months into a new term for President Bush and the Republican-controlled Congress, some of their heaviest donors are scoring victories on the legislative and regulatory fronts.

From rewrites of the laws governing bankruptcy and class-action lawsuits to relief for oil, timber and tobacco interests, GOP supporters who gave millions of dollars last year are reaping decisions worth billions from a Congress with more Republicans.

"Clearly, the election outcome has helped," says Bruce Josten, executive vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. "We are heading in the right direction. A lot more has been done by this time in a new session than usual."

While much public attention has been focused on Bush's sputtering effort to sell an overhaul of Social Security, legislation long sought by the GOP and its business allies have been enacted with bipartisan support. In February, Congress passed and Bush signed a bill that sharply limits class-action lawsuits. The savings will likely come to several billion dollars a year, says Russ Sutter of Tillinghast-Towers Perrin, an actuarial firm that studies tort costs.

The business sector that includes manufacturing and retail was among top GOP donors last election cycle. It directed three of every five political dollars to Republicans — almost $121 million, according to the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics.

There was a similar partisan tilt in political giving by the finance industry, which won passage in April of a law making it harder to erase debts by declaring bankruptcy. Credit card companies and banks sought the change as a way to collect more debts.

The finance sector gave nearly $195 million to the GOP in the 2004 elections. And 105 of Bush's 548 elite fundraisers — those who raised $100,000 or more — were from the world of finance, making it his biggest base of top-dollar support, at $34 million.

"Many of the traditional business supporters are really getting the agenda they wanted, and it seems to be speeding up," says Larry Noble, director of the Center for Responsive Politics, which studies the impact of money on politics.

Still to come: Congress is pushing to complete an energy bill. Business interests want limits on liability for water contamination caused by MTBE, a fuel additive designed to reduce auto emissions, and oil companies seek to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling. The Senate passed its version Tuesday.

Bush supporters also have had good luck outside the legislative arena:

• Justice Department lawyers this month abruptly scaled back their request for a penalty in the government's lawsuit against tobacco companies. Rather than the 25-year, $130 billion smoking cessation program their own expert had recommended, they are asking for a $14 billion remedy. The tobacco industry favored Republicans three-to-one over Democrats last year, giving $2.7 million to the party and its candidates.

The Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility is looking into whether politics influenced the decision.

• After Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman William Donaldson resigned under fire from business groups who complained about overzealous regulation, Bush replaced him with someone with a pro-corporate record: Rep. Christopher Cox, R-Calif.

"It's hard to imagine somebody with a more nakedly deregulatory agenda," says William Lerach, a trial lawyer who has brought shareholder lawsuits against corporations accused of securities fraud. Securities and investment firms gave $47.8 million to Republicans last election.

• The administration last month reversed a ban on road construction, timber harvesting, mining and energy development on undeveloped national forest land. The government also has expanded oil and gas development on federal lands, including areas in New Mexico and Wyoming.

Energy and natural resources interests gave $39.3 million to the GOP last year, three times the amount given to Democrats.