President Bush has granted numerous government favors--including regulatory relief and import-export assistance--to business leaders who contributed $100,000 or more to his last presidential campaign, according to a study released Wednesday.
Common Cause, the citizens' lobby, conducted the study, alleging--among other things--that Bush was responding to a request from several large donors in California earlier this year when he released 326 billion gallons of low-cost federal water from the Central Valley Project.
The study quoted Howard Leach, a wealthy Salinas agriculture investor, as saying that he brought the matter to Bush's attention during a fund-raiser in February. He said Bush "clearly was interested and sympathetic." The water was made available 10 days after the fund-raiser.
Leach could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Common Cause said the chief beneficiary of the President's decision to release water from the Central Valley Project was not Leach but another of Bush's top donors: J. W. Boswell, the largest single user of Central Valley Project water. Boswell, an acquaintance of Leach, was responsible for $125,000 in contributions to Bush and the GOP in 1988.
Robert A. Mosbacher, Bush's general campaign chairman who served as chief fund-raiser in 1988, denied that the Administration took any actions in exchange for contributions. "That's absolute baloney," he told the Associated Press. "They (contributors) don't get anything and they don't expect anything."
In 1988 249 wealthy individuals contributed $100,000 or more to Bush's presidential campaign. Their large contributions qualified them to be members of Team 100, which raised nearly $25 million for the Bush campaign.
Although the federal government provides public financing for presidential candidates, Bush and his 1988 Democratic opponent, Michael S. Dukakis, each raised millions of dollars in so-called "soft money." Soft money escapes federal rules governing campaign financing because it benefits the candidates indirectly--allowing parties to spend the money on their behalf. Team 100 is Bush's principle soft-money fund.
The Common Cause study cited what it described as "a clear pattern of favorable treatment of Team 100 members" by the Bush Administration that is similar to the pattern of favoritism toward big contributors that existed during the Watergate era under President Richard M. Nixon.
After Watergate, Congress imposed a strict limit on contributions to presidential and congressional candidates. Not until 1988, when candidates began raising large sums of soft money, did contributors resume making major donations equivalent to those given to Nixon in 1972.
"At a time when most Americans believe government is ignoring their problems, our . . . investigation shows that President Bush's $100,000 donors are getting special attention and favorable treatment from the Bush Administration," said Fred Wertheimer, president of Common Cause.
According to Common Cause, the Bush Administration's efforts to reward Team 100 members have included:
* California real estate investor William Lloyd Davis, who contributed $100,000 in soft money to Team 100 and $76,540 to the GOP, succeeded in persuading the Administration to support his efforts to upgrade Front Range airport outside Denver, making it the hub of an industrial park project known as Centerport. The FAA approved an environmental report for the project two weeks after Davis helped to host a $1,000-a-plate fund-raiser for Bush, which raised $1.25 million.
* The Justice Department in early 1990 decided to drop a case alleging that Georgia Power and its parent, Southern Company Services, had improperly written off on taxes millions of dollars worth of spare parts that were still on the shelf. Southern Company Services President Edward Addison is a Team 100 member.
* In 1991, the Justice Department announced a plan to prosecute under U.S. antitrust laws companies in Japan's keiretsu system of interlocking companies, buyers and suppliers. The idea to prosecute was the brainchild of corporate raider T. Boone Pickens, another Team 100 member.
* In 1989, the Administration altered its clean-air proposal to include a provision for experimental reformulated gas sought by Atlantic Richfield Co., which along with its executives has donated $862,360 in soft money. The bill also included provisions for ethanol marketed by Archer Daniels Midland, whose chairman, Dwayne Andreas, was responsible for $652,000 in contributions, and for natural gas sold by Pickens' Mesa Co.
* The Labor Department settled a proposed $2.5-million fine against sugar farmer Jose Fanjul for 12 cents on the dollar for violations of federal labor laws in 1988 and 1989. Fanjul, a Bush fund-raiser in 1988 and 1992, and his company donated $200,000 to Bush in soft money.
* The Agriculture Department has awarded millions of dollars in grants to help Brown Forman distilleries and Dole Food Co. promote their products overseas. The head of Brown Forman, W .L. Lyons Brown, was responsible for $305,000 in contributions; Dole chairman David Murdock and his company contributed $354,000.
* Bush Administration officials lobbied on behalf of U.S. Tobacco Co. in seeking to overturn bans on chewing tobacco in Australia and Britain. U.S. Tobacco Chairman Louis Bantle donated $304,760.