Many companies hedge their bets, give big to both parties

By Jonathan D. Salant, Associated Press, 03/01/00

WASHINGTON -- AT&T was among the most generous contributors to the Republican Party last year. The giant long-distance and cable company also was among the top donors to the Democrats.

The company was one of 32 firms or individuals that made six-figure donations to both political parties, according to the advocacy group Common Cause.

"Corporations and special interests don't give soft money to both parties because they want to increase turnout or support American democracy," Common Cause President Scott Harshbarger said. "They give this money for one simple reason: They want something in return."

AT&T has opposed efforts to open their cable lines to competing Internet providers, and has fought requests by the Bell operating companies to offer long-distance telephone service.

The company was the top giver of unregulated soft money in 1999, handing out $1.3 million to the Democratic and Republican parties. AT&T gave $555,350 to the Democrats and $761,908 to the GOP.

Soft money refers to corporate, union and individual contributions that are not subject to federal contribution limits and are supposed to be used for party-building activities such as get-out-the-vote drives. Both parties are using an increasing amount of their soft money for issue advertisements, designed to generate support for a particular candidate without specifically urging a vote for or against the person.

AT&T spokesman Jim McGann declined to comment.

Other big givers include:

  • Carl Lindner and his American Financial Corp., which gave $820,000 -- $270,000 to the Democrats and $550,000 to the Republicans.

    Lindner's Chiquita bananas are at the center of a trade dispute between the United States and Europe. The World Trade Organization has authorized the U.S. to impose tariffs on European goods in retaliation for rules that the Clinton administration says unfairly that discriminates against bananas grown in Latin America by Chiquita and Dole Food Co. But some House Democrats have introduced legislation to stop the tariffs.

  • Microsoft Corp., which gave $798,163, with $351,250 going to Democrats and $446,913 going to Republicans. The high-technology industry is backing legislation to expand the number of H-1B visas, which allow foreign graduates of U.S. colleges to stay in the country and work.

  • Mirage Resorts, the owner of several casinos, which gave $563,621 -- $253,621 to the Democrats and $310,000 to GOP. The gambling industry is fighting legislation to ban betting on intercollegiate sports.

  • Schering-Plough, which gave $393,500, $100,000 for Democrats and $293,500 for Republicans. The maker of Claritin is seeking legislation would allow the company to ask the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for another three years of patent protection. The patent on the profitable anti-allergy medicine is set to expire in 2002.