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Another Big Loser: Campaign Coffers


WASHINGTON — As telecommunications giant WorldCom Inc. tumbles toward almost certain bankruptcy, the campaign finance industry that fuels politics on Capitol Hill is in danger of losing yet another multimillion-dollar player.

In the last decade, WorldCom, its MCI subsidiary, its officers and its employees have pumped more than $4 million into the campaign coffers of the Republican and Democratic parties and their candidates--more than half of that in the last three years, according to Federal Election Commission records and two independent groups that monitor campaign finance.

In the current congressional election cycle alone--a period when the company's stock was tanking and federal investigations into its practices mounted--WorldCom and its key employees donated more than $1 million to both parties and candidates, ranking it among the nation's top 50 donors.

WorldCom has been generous to both sides of the aisle: That $1-million-plus total was almost evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, according to the Dwight L. Morris & Associates campaign finance project and the Center for Responsive Politics.

Disclosure documents show that WorldCom's donations targeted specific issues and specific members of Congress.

Rep. Charles W. "Chip" Pickering Jr. (R-Miss.), who represents the district that includes WorldCom's headquarters in Clinton, was the largest individual recipient. He received $57,500 since 1991, including $6,000 in personal donations from Bernard J. Ebbers, WorldCom's former chief executive.

Second on the list was Sen. Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.), who received a total of $31,166 in WorldCom-related money since 1991 and is now poised, as chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, to play a critical role in defeating legislation that the company has bitterly opposed.

WorldCom and its money have been heavyweights in the battle over the Internet Freedom and Broadband Deployment Act of 2001, which became one of the more heated lobbying wars of the current congressional session.

Among other things, the bill would open new access ramps for the "Baby Bell" regional telephone powerhouses to compete in the long-distance data industry, which is dominated by the long-distance giants AT&T Corp., Sprint Corp. and WorldCom. By easing 6-year-old anti-monopolistic restrictions on the Bells, the law would cut into WorldCom's profit.

Last February, WorldCom and its allies lost their first battle to kill the bill in the House, which narrowly approved it in February--after WorldCom's alliance was outspent in campaign financing.

Together, WorldCom, Sprint and AT&T together contributed about $12 million to federal campaigns in the three years before the House vote, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

The Baby Bells--which include SBC Communications Inc., the parent of Pacific Bell--contributed $19.4 million during that period.

But WorldCom's group may yet win the war. The legislation now rests in the Senate, where Hollings publicly vowed before the House vote that the bill would be "dead on arrival."

Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) ranks third on WorldCom's individual recipient list since 1991, with a total of $30,500 going to the senator and his political action committees. Lott represents the company's home state.

WorldCom is not the most generous of the corporate donors that have fallen since Enron Corp. filed for bankruptcy protection Dec. 2. The energy-trading giant itself spread $6 million around the election landscape in the last decade--$2 million of it in the period before the 2000 presidential elections.

Arthur Andersen, the accounting firm that audited both Enron and WorldCom and was convicted this month on federal charges of obstructing justice, contributed $5.2 million to federal parties and candidates in the same period.

And Global Crossing Ltd., another telecom corporation embroiled in bankruptcy and federal inquiries, contributed $1 million in the last two years alone.

Times researcher Robert Patrick contributed to this report.

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