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Lobby Money Sways Votes

By JIM DRINKARD
.c The Associated Press

   WASHINGTON (Jan. 22) - It was a tense moment in Congress last year when
the peanut industry barely survived an attempt to phase out its federal
subsidy.

    But the dollars behind the 212-209 House vote weren't anywhere near as
close. Lawmakers voting to preserve the subsidy had received an average of
$1,542 each in campaign contributions from the industry in the last
two-year election cycle. Those voting to end the peanut program had
received an average of $152 apiece. The numbers, and the outcome, were
similar in a Senate vote three weeks earlier.

    The same pattern emerges in vote after vote from the 104th Congress,
which ended last year, according to a new study by the Center for
Responsive Politics, a private research group that tracks the influence of
money on government policy.

    Legislative showdowns on drug patent protection, tobacco regulation,
gun control, defense contracts and subsidies for the oil, mining, grazing,
timber and sugar industries all followed the same scenario. In each case,
the source of a lawmaker's financial support was an accurate predictor of
how he or she would vote, the study found.

    ''It's important for the ordinary person, who doesn't have the big
bucks to give, to see how this money flows and how the decisions get
made,'' Nancy Watzman, one of the study's authors, said in an interview.

    ''It raises the question, do you need to have money on your side to be
heard on Capitol Hill? This money is going for very practical business
reasons, not because of lofty, grand ideals.''

    Among the examples:

    - In March, the Senate voted 54 to 42 to preserve a law allowing timber
companies to salvage dead and dying trees on public lands, over the
objections of environmentalists. Those voting to keep the program had
received an average of $19,503 in timber industry contributions over the
previous five years; those opposed, $2,675.

    - In late 1995, Congress voted to lift a ban on exports of oil produced
on Alaska's North Slope and to grant the oil industry a ''holiday'' from
federal royalty payments for oil produced in deep water in the Gulf of
Mexico. Senate supporters of the move had received an average of $64,460
each from the industry since 1991, while opponents had received just over
$12,000 each. In the House, those voting for the industry position received
three times as much as those who did not.

    ''This stuff has an impact on people's lives,'' said Watzman.

    Since a telecommunications bill deregulated the cable television
business, for example, cable rates have risen just over 10 percent, by one
estimate. On a key house vote in 1995 which favored the industry,
supporters got five times as much as those who sided with consumer groups
who opposed the change.

    And consumer groups say federal sugar price supports add about 50 cents
to the supermarket price of a five-pound bag of sugar. But an effort to
phase out the price supports last year in the House failed, 217 to 208.
Those voting to keep the subsidy in place received $5,994, on average, from
sugar producers. Those voting to phase it out got $853 each.

    Campaign giving doesn't tell the entire story about voting behavior of
members of Congress. Constituent interests, party politics, ideology and
friendships all can play roles, as well. But in the 42 issues the study
examined, the correlation with money was too strong to be coincidental,
Watzman said.

    The examples are most striking in cases where is a narrow industry
interest at stake, and where the issue up for a vote directly affects the
industry's bottom line. ''The timber industry may not be the biggest giver,
but when you look at the money, they very clearly are directing it to those
voting their way,'' she said.

    The center has posted the results of its study at its World Wide Web
Internet site, where it can be searched for the voting patterns of
individual lawmakers.


The home page address for the Center for Responsive Politics is http://www.crp.org