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CAMPAIGN 2000

It's a Well-Oiled Machine That Keeps Bush Running

September 23, 2000|JUDY PASTERNAK and ALAN C. MILLER | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — As gasoline prices spike, electricity supplies sputter and energy issues spill into the presidential race, Republican nominee George W. Bush is fielding a campaign team as petro-saturated as the rich layered limestone and sandstone of his home state of Texas.

In addition to the candidate and his running mate--tagged by some as the "Houston Oilers" for their industry backgrounds--several Bush policy advisors have extensive ties to the energy business, notably in oil but also in natural gas and electricity. Deeply familiar with the companies' perspective on a wide range of topics, they not only are important architects of the campaign's core positions, but some are likely to follow Bush into the highest reaches of government if he is elected.

Condoleezza Rice, Bush's chief foreign policy advisor during the campaign, has served since 1991 on the board of Chevron Corp. Chevron even named a 150,000-ton tanker in her honor; the Condoleezza Rice plies the company's global trade routes. Former Secretary of State George P. Shultz, who also counsels Bush concerning foreign affairs, previously served on the Chevron board.

Michael J. Boskin, an economist advising Bush, has been a director of Exxon Mobil Corp. since 1996. And the campaign's chief economic advisor, Lawrence B. Lindsey, is on a panel of consultants to the Enron Corp., a Houston-based natural-gas and electricity marketing firm that has close bonds with Bush and is one of his biggest financial backers.

The industry has rallied behind its own: Energy executives and companies are contributing as never before to the Republican's run for the White House.

Oil and gas interests, which gave $2.36 to the Republicans four years ago for every $1 they gave to the Democrats, have boosted that ratio during this campaign to nearly 4 to 1, according to an analysis for The Times by the Campaign Study Group of Springfield, Va.

The flow of oil and gas money to the Republican National Committee increased by 24% by the end of June over the same 18-month period in 1996, while the industry's donations to the Democratic National Committee declined by about the same amount.

As of June 30, the RNC had taken in $7.5 million from energy interests, its third-largest benefactor after financial services and real estate.

Bush's Figures Dwarf Gore's

Bush raised an additional $1.4 million from the oil and gas industries for his presidential campaign--17 times the figure for Democratic nominee Al Gore. (Altogether, Bush has raised twice as much money as the vice president.)

Also, one of every eight of Bush's 212 Pioneers--fund-raisers who brought in at least $100,000 apiece--works in oil or natural resources, according to the nonpartisan Texans for Public Justice.

Of course, Bush would not be the first president from a particular industry. Ronald Reagan had a long career in entertainment, for example, and Jimmy Carter had been a farmer. But seldom has a presidential campaign had so many candidates and advisors with ties to a single industry--and that industry hopes for a payoff.

Christine Toretti, chief executive officer of SW Jack Drilling, a natural-gas drilling company in Indiana, Pa., says that is why SW gave $145,000 to the RNC this year--up from $10,500 in 1996--and not a dime to the DNC.

"I am putting all my eggs in one basket, but I have spent eight years trying to keep my people employed," Toretti said. "We need to be opening up Alaska and the North Carolina coast. . . . Obviously, it's not Gore's priority. If you haven't done it by now, the heck with you." Gore hopes the connection will backfire. Linking his opponent to the increase in oil prices, Gore has branded the Republican ticket as "of Big Oil, by Big Oil and for Big Oil."

Gore has his own oil connection: Occidental Petroleum has long been a major supporter of Gore and his father, former Sen. Albert Gore of Tennessee. A family trust holds considerable stock in the company.

But Gore, seeking to shore up his populist image and distance himself from soaring oil prices, has been blasting big petroleum firms for profiteering.

Former Energy Secretary James R. Schlesinger said Gore's attacks have helped trigger the oil industry's largess to the Republicans. "It's more of a protect-yourself-against-Al-Gore move," he said.

Bush, like his father, former President Bush, is a veteran of the Texas oil fields, working in the industry from 1975 to 1986. His running mate, former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, was chief executive officer of the Dallas-based energy services giant Halliburton Co. when Bush asked him to fill out the ticket.

"I think Americans will appreciate the insight and expertise" that the Republican team of Bush, Cheney and other advisors brings to "this complicated issue," campaign spokesman Dan Bartlett said. "Gov. Bush is going to make policy and sign legislation based on how it best helps America and not any particular industry."

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