Published on Thursday, July 17, 2003 by the Washington Post
GOP Attorneys General Asked For Corporate Contributions
by R. Jeffrey Smith and Tania Branigan
Republican state attorneys general in at least six states telephoned corporations or trade groups subject to lawsuits or regulations by their state governments to solicit hundreds of thousands of dollars in political contributions, according to internal fundraising documents obtained by The Washington Post.
The attorneys general were all members of the Washington-based Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA). The companies they solicited included some of the nation's largest tobacco, pharmaceutical, computer, energy, banking, liquor, insurance and media concerns, many of which have been targeted in product liability lawsuits or regulations by state governments.
The documents describe direct calls the attorneys general made, for example, to representatives of Pfizer Inc., MasterCard Inc., Eli Lilly and Co., Anheuser-Busch Cos., Citigroup Inc., Amway Corp., U.S. Steel Corp., Nextel Communications Inc., General Motors Corp., Microsoft Corp. and Shell Oil Co., among other companies. They also make clear that RAGA assigned attorneys general to make calls to companies with business and legal interests in their own states.
One of those soliciting funds between 1999 and 2001, according to the documents, was Alabama Attorney General William Pryor Jr., a pending nominee by President Bush to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit. Sources said that a former RAGA employee recently turned some of the fundraising documents over to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which could vote as early as today on his nomination. A source who asked not to be named provided the documents to The Post.
The nomination had already provoked a partisan battle, with Democrats contending that Pryor is a conservative ideologue and raising the possibility of a filibuster.
Other attorneys general mentioned in the documents include then-Virginia Attorney General Mark L. Earley; Delaware Attorney General Jane Brady; then-South Carolina Attorney General Charlie Condon; then-Texas Attorney General John Cornyn, now in the Senate, and then-Ohio Attorney General Betty Montgomery.
One document states, for example, that Cornyn was asked to collect a donation from Shell Oil in late 1999, but does not mention whether Shell gave the group money. The firm was one of five energy companies that reached a $12.6 million settlement with Cornyn in August 1999 in a dispute over unpaid royalties. Two years later, Shell was one of 28 oil and petrochemical companies to reach a $120 million settlement with him and the U.S. Department of Justice in a separate dispute over toxic waste.
Last night, Don Stewart, a spokesman for Cornyn, said the senator does not recall telephoning Shell Oil. Stewart also said he was "troubled by the inference that there is some kind of connection" between any such phone call and a legal settlement that "benefited the citizens of Texas."
"This is incredibly tawdry," said Charles Lewis, director of the Center for Public Integrity, an independent group that highlights the link between money and politics. "That famous statue of the lady of justice with the blindfold -- this kind of throws that out the window. There is an incredible mercenary element to this that implies that policy is bought and sold."
"I do not see anything wrong with that," Earley said. "Attorney generals are elected officials and regularly solicit funds for their own campaigns from organizations and businesses in their states. With RAGA, it was being done on a group basis."
A spokesman for Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., one of the companies mentioned in the documents, said he is not familiar with the cited contributions. However, he said, the firm routinely gives funds to "those who share our beliefs" and protect the rights of smokers. Calls to other firms the documents mention were not returned.
All funds collected by RAGA were passed to the Republican National Committee -- without any public link to the attorneys general who made the solicitations -- and then disbursed to campaigns by the attorneys general and other candidates, the documents indicated. The group does not file public disclosure statements.
The documents state that in return for contributions, company officials would be entitled to meet with the attorneys general, participate in conference calls with them and socialize with them. As of Feb. 22, 2000, the group had collected $235,000 from 21 firms, received promises of $188,500 from 24 other firms, and was soliciting funds from an additional 114 firms, the documents state.
RAGA was founded by Pryor and the Republican National Committee with the explicit aim of soliciting funds from the firearms, tobacco and paint industries and other industries facing state lawsuits over cancer deaths, lead poisoning, gunshots and consumer complaints, according to statements by Pryor and other officials.
Pryor, who did not return a phone call to his Alabama office seeking comment yesterday, has told reporters that he does "not want corporations to be punished" by trial lawyers and favors a "market-oriented" approach to state law enforcement. He has also said that contributions do not influence legal decisions by RAGA members.
In the documents, Pryor is described as phoning Philip Morris Inc. and Brown & Williamson in 1999 to obtain $25,000 "Roundtable" memberships in RAGA from each company. He also is described as phoning Boeing Co., BP/Amoco, GTE Corp., AT&T Corp., MCI Communications Corp., SouthTrust Bank and other firms, including some in Alabama, and collecting an additional $75,000.
The two tobacco companies were parties to a $2.6 billion liability settlement reached in 1998 with 26 state attorneys general, including Pryor. In a written statement following his June 11 confirmation hearing, Pryor said he was unaware of any funds RAGA solicited or collected from companies in Alabama. He also told Congress he did not know whether any tobacco companies were RAGA members.
In November 1999, when Democrats were pressing for tighter gun controls, Earley told Congress that the solution was better enforcement, not more legislation. He was assigned to solicit a contribution from the Fairfax-based National Rifle Association, which donated $25,000 a month after Earley's testimony, the documents state. Randy Kozuch, the gun group's director of state and local affairs, also served on the RAGA finance committee that year.
The documents state that Earley was assigned to contact several other major donors, including pharmaceuticals giant Eli Lilly, which paid $15,000 to join RAGA and sponsored a lunch at its spring conference for $5,000.
Earley said he had never solicited funds from the NRA for RAGA. "There may be documents that someone suggests [calls] be parceled out to certain individuals, but I do not remember dealing with the NRA," he said. "I did deal with some businesses that did business in Virginia," he added.
The executive director of RAGA, Tim Barnes, said the actions described in the documents preceded his tenure with the group and that he is unfamiliar with them. But he said that "Republican attorney generals assist us in our fundraising efforts."
Staff researcher Karl Evanzz contributed to this report.
© 2003 The Washington Post Company