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An Endowed Chair 

Sen. John McCain's push for campaign-finance reform has helped his presidential bid. Donations from special interests haven't hurt, either.

Wednesday, Dec 15 1999

Page 3 of 5

Hudson calls the deal a "giveaway," and says that the legislation -- which he says would have addressed perhaps 10 percent of the complaints airline customers commonly lodge -- was gutted and replaced with a study committee.

Mark Buse, staff director of the Senate Commerce Committee, sees the matter differently.

"Senator McCain has from the very beginning stated that he thinks it's better for industry to voluntarily do these sorts of plans ... as opposed to government-imposed mandates. But if they don't do it, then he is prepared to pass out a bill," Buse says.

Of course, if and when that happens, McCain will probably not be raising money for a presidential bid.

McCain has been unabashed in his attempts to win a much-sought-after prize for America West Airlines, which is headquartered in Arizona. For years, McCain has fought to increase the number of slots at Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C. -- a move that would all but guarantee America West the opportunity to fly nonstop from Phoenix, instead of stopping in the Midwest. District interests strongly opposed the move, and the argument became so heated that McCain had to vow he would never personally take one of the nonstop flights.

Darryl Jenkins, director of the Aviation Institute at George Washington University, says he doesn't care if there are more slots at National Airport. His real concern is that McCain's push on behalf of America West held up legislation that Jenkins believes is infinitely more important.

"What is really kind of irritating ... is the fact that for two years now, the current Congress has not reauthorized FAA. They've let regional, parochial issues like this hold up important issues like improving air traffic control, which is of concern to an awful lot of people. It's to the point now where our air traffic system is so outdated, so overpumped, that in a couple years it could become a safety issue. So I wish these people would get off these things and get onto some real, serious aviation issues, and I don't see that happening."

McCain "has to take responsibility," Jenkins says. "He's head of the Senate committee that oversees these things."

America West Airlines has donated at least $11,500 to McCain. John Timmons, a former McCain staffer and current lobbyist for America West, has donated $2,000. His firm, Higgins, McGovern & Smith, has donated another $3,000.

McCain successfully bargained to get 24 slots for National Airport, but the deal is on hold because the FAA authorization bill was not passed before Nov. 19, when Congress adjourned.

Of the many industries impacted by the Senate Commerce Committee, the most prominent is telecommunications. It is also the most lucrative for McCain, who has raked in at least $1 million from people and PACs in the industry.

The issues vary and the players change sides from issue to issue, so it is tough to pin a particular campaign contribution on a particular vote.

But two things are clear:

Just about all the major players in the telecom industry donate big bucks to McCain, and his actions -- big and small -- on the Senate Commerce Committee have the ability to make or break their businesses.

Microsoft is one of McCain's biggest donors, having given at least $32,250.

It's the Senate Judiciary Committee, not Commerce, that has jurisdiction over antitrust issues like the one Microsoft is embroiled in, yet McCain made noise last year about convening related hearings before his committee. At about the same time, Microsoft hosted a fund-raiser for him in Seattle.

And many Commerce Committee actions do affect Microsoft. The company has interests in phone and satellite companies, and McCain has jurisdiction over Internet legislation affecting privacy. He has supported legislation that requires schools and libraries to use filters to limit kids' access to pornography. Internet taxation is fodder for Commerce, too, and McCain sponsored the Internet Tax Freedom Act, now law, which prohibits states and local jurisdictions from taxing Internet activities. That legislation was celebrated by Microsoft and other Internet-related companies.

McCain gladdened Internet providers in May when he introduced a bill to keep the Internet free of government regulation. The measure was designed to encourage companies to expand high-speed Internet networks all over the country. The regional phone companies, all of whom rank among McCain's top donors, including US West ($103,700) and Bell South ($56,000), strongly support the measure. But long distance companies such as AT&T ($52,250) and cable television companies such as Time Warner ($12,000) are opposed.

Interests on both sides of the debate over the Satellite Home Viewers Act have contributed to McCain. Last month, McCain refused to endorse the final version of the bill, which was approved by Congress as part of the omnibus budget agreement and now goes to the president. The measure was designed to level the playing field for satellite and cable television providers. McCain says -- and consumer groups agree -- that the bill is not fair because it does not grant satellite companies authority to broadcast local programming, something cable providers can do.

Cable interests such as the National Cable Television Association have given him at least $9,394. But so have satellite companies -- the most notable is EchoStar, whose chairman, Charlie Ergen, hosted a spring fund-raiser for McCain that reportedly garnered more than $40,000.

Cable companies may be unhappy with McCain's stance on the Satellite Home Viewers Act, but if they're in the market to own TV stations, they'll love a bill the senator introduced in September. The measure would allow TV station groups to buy more. Owners would be allowed to reach 50 percent of U.S. households, rather than the current 35 percent. Owners would also be allowed to own a television station and newspaper in the same market.

About The Author

Amy Silverman


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