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Financial firms are bushs biggest donors { January 9 2004 }

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January 9, 2004
Financial Firms Are Bush's Biggest Donors, Study Reports

WASHINGTON, Jan. 8 A new study released Thursday shows that employees and political action committees of brokerages, banks and credit companies make up 6 of President Bush's top 10 career contributors, a clear indicator of his increasing support from the financial sector.

In a similar study during the 2000 election, no major financial services firms were among the top 10.

The study was conducted by the nonpartisan Center for Public Integrity and published as a book, "The Buying of the President 2004." It looks at top contributors to Republican and Democratic presidential candidates over the course of their public careers.

"This money is not coming from backyard bake sales and barbecues," said Charles Lewis, the center's executive director. "It's coming from powerful special interests who want something."

Mr. Bush's top financial sponsor was the Enron Corporation, the bankrupt energy trader that collapsed amid an accounting scandal. The company and its employees gave almost $603,000 to Mr. Bush, said the study, which examined contributions to his campaigns for Congress, Texas governor and the presidency through the third quarter of this year.

Enron employees have continued to give to Mr. Bush, albeit in small amounts. The president received $3,000 in 2003 from four people who listed Enron as their employer, the study said.

"We solicit contributions from people from all walks of life," said Terry Holt, a Bush campaign spokesman. "If it's legal and appropriate, we are obviously thankful for the contribution."

Merrill Lynch & Company was Mr. Bush's second-largest career patron, at about $505,500, followed by the MBNA Corporation, at $493,000. The law firm Vinson & Elkins gave $466,000; Credit Suisse First Boston almost $445,000; Bass Brothers Enterprises $392,000; the International Bank of Commerce $371,000; UBS Financial Services $353,000; Goldman Sachs Group almost $343,000; and the accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers about $341,000.

Mr. Bush has championed several initiatives that were applauded by the financial community, including cuts in dividend and capital gains taxes.

One subject the study focused on was Mr. Bush's interest in introducing private investment accounts into the Social Security system. Many financial companies support the idea because the boom in investment accounts from any such change "could generate untold billions of dollars in annual fees and commissions for Wall Street firms," the study said.

Mr. Bush supported the idea in last year's State of the Union address.

The president, who has raised more than $130.8 million for this year's campaign, has broad financial support from the financial sector. Among his corps of 350 elite six-figure fund-raisers, one of every five comes from the financial sector, including several top Wall Street executives.

Mr. Holt said the campaign's fund-raising operation reached out to many contributors "on the basis of a broad agenda." Some say the appeal of that agenda to the financial world is obvious.

"The bottom line is that people vote their pocketbook," said Van B. Poole, a six-figure Bush fund-raiser from Florida. "The people on Wall Street feel like they know what direction the country is going and they feel like there's a good captain at the helm, who will keep the ship on a steady course."

The study also delves into the nine Democratic presidential candidates, their donors and their policies.

For example, it examined Senator John Kerry's ties to the telecommunications industry. Mr. Kerry sits on a subcommittee that has jurisdiction over the Federal Communications Commission and the industry.

His top career contributor is the law firm Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky & Popeo, which gave about $231,000, the study said. The firm has counted the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association, as well as AT&T Wireless Services, as clients, the study said. It is also where his brother, Cameron F. Kerry, works as a lawyer in the telecommunications field.

Detailing a number of situations in which Mr. Kerry sided with the industry, the study said that "in recent years, Kerry's positions on telecom issues closely followed CTIA's legislative agenda."

Mr. Kerry's office defended his actions cited in the study, saying they were "based on what is sound policy and what is best for the people he represents."

The study also highlighted Representative Richard A. Gephardt's ties to the Anheuser-Busch Companies, which is based in his home state of Missouri and ranks as his top career contributor at almost $519,000.

The study said Mr. Gephardt had tried to lower taxes or levies on alcohol products, including taxes on beer, at least five times in Congress. "Gephardt has been a reliable advocate for both Anheuser-Busch and the industry at large," it said.

Erik Smith, a spokesman for the Gephardt campaign, said the congressman was representing the needs of a large employer in his district. "It makes sense that a hometown company would have a good relationship with their member of Congress," Mr. Smith said.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

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