MARCH 1999 ·
VOLUME 20 · NUMBER 3
B E H I N D T H E L I N E S
The Roundtable's Menu
There is no better way to grasp how big business is investing in the U.S. federal electoral process than to review the campaign contribution record of the member companies of the Business Roundtable, a business group consisting exclusively of the CEOs of the largest companies in the United States.
A new report from Public Disclosure, a Washington, D.C.-based campaign finance watchdog group, indicates that 156 of the 175 Roundtable companies maintain Political Action Committees that made "hard money" donations to candidates in the 1997-1998 electoral cycle. One hundred thirty-eight of the companies made "soft money" contributions, which are supposed to be used for party-building activities but not direct electoral work.
Republicans lapped up twice as much as Democrats in Roundtable contributions. One hundred fifty-two of the elite Roundtable companies gave more than $21 million in hard money, and more than $18 million in soft money, to Republicans. Democrats took in more than $10 million in hard money from Roundtable companies, and nearly $7 million in soft money.
The half dozen leading Roundtable donors to Democrats were: GTE, AT&T, Bell South, BankAmerica, Boeing and Lockheed Martin. The leading Roundtable contributors to the Republicans were: GTE, UPS, Federal Express, Union Pacific, AT&T and Citicorp.
Gene Suit I
More than 70 farmer, consumer and environmental groups sued the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in February for violating federal law by approving crops genetically engineered to produce Bacillus Thuringiensis (Bt), the world's most important biological pesticide. Varieties of corn, potatoes and cotton are currently engineered to produce Bt. The lawsuit was filed after the EPA failed to respond to a petition filed in 1997 asking the agency to take Bt crops off the market.
The lawsuit seeks removal of all genetically engineered Bt plants from the market unless the EPA proves that the plants do not damage the environment or place the effectiveness of Bt at risk.
The lawsuit was filed by the Center for Food Safety, Greenpeace, the International Federal of Organic Agricultural Movements and more than 30 other U.S. organic farming organizations.
Bt pesticides are the only emergency pest control option for organic farmers. Bt is safe, effective and poses no threat to the environment.
"Organic farmers have used Bt responsibly for nearly 40 years," says Jim Gerritsen, a plaintiff and potato grower from Maine. "But genetically engineered Bt crops will lead to insect resistance in just a few years. My ability to provide consumers with quality, organic produce should not be compromised for the short-term benefit of the biotech industry."
This growing season will be the fourth in which large acreages of Bt corn, potatoes and cotton will be planted. Each season represents another opportunity for insects to develop resistance to Bt.
"After years of debate, no one now seriously doubts that the widespread use of Bt crops will hasten the evolution of insect resistance to Bt toxins -- perhaps in as few as three to six years," says Jane Rissler, a staff scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists. "Indeed, resistant insects may already have evolved but thus far remain undetected."
Gene Suit II
Two former Tampa, Florida-based television reporters will be allowed to proceed to trial against Fox Television, a Florida judge has ruled.
In a lawsuit filed in April 1998, investigative reporters Jane Akre and Steve Wilson allege they were fired for refusing orders from WTVT news managers and Fox lawyers to lie and distort the facts about a dairy hormone they discovered in Florida's milk supply. The station has long said there is no basis for the charges by the journalists.
For Television and WTVT attorney Patricia Anderson argued in court that the lawsuit should be thrown out.
But Circuit Court Judge Robert Bonanno said that "genuine issues of material fact remain on all the grounds raised by" Akre and Wilson and denied Fox's motion for summary judgment.
In the year since the case was filed, Wilson has personally taken the depositions of several WTVT and Fox employees. The company and its lawyers have bitterly argued that Wilson's efforts were motivated by a desire to intimidate the witnesses and disrupt the station's operations.
"So far, we have heard sworn testimony that our editors and Fox lawyers never found a single misreported fact in any of the 83 scripts we proposed to broadcast," Wilson says.
Wilson and Akre were hired to produce hard-hitting investigative reports, a mandate which changed once Fox formally closed on its purchase of the station in January 1998.
Their first report, an exposé on the widespread secret use of bovine growth hormone in Florida, was set to air February 24, 1997, but was derailed after the hormone maker hired an influential New York lawyer to pressure Fox.
The journalists say they were ultimately fired for refusing to report information they knew to be false and misleading and to slant the story in Monsanto's favor to avoid potential litigation and the loss of advertising revenue Fox and its associated companies receive.