A small number of donations by employees of the credit card giant MBNA Corp. last month was enough to unseat Enron as President George W. Bush's top career donor.
The Delaware-based company has given Bush $605,041 over his career, while Enron ($602,625) slipped to second, according to a recent supplement to "The Buying of the President 2004," a book by the Center for Public Integrity detailing the financial interests behind each presidential candidate.
The Center's study found that investment companies continue to make staggering donations to Bush, driven by so-called bundlers. Nine of Bush's largest ten donors during October 2003 through January 2004 were financial services companies. All of Bush's ten largest donors from October through January are linked to bundlers who have pledged to donate $100,000 to $250,000 as part of the president's Pioneer and Ranger Programs.
The change in the top donor spot occurred in January, when MBNA employees donated $6,000 to the Bush campaign—enough to push the company, which calls itself the world's largest independent credit card issuer—ahead of Enron. Coming in third was Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc. ($585,754). PricewaterhouseCoopers, which contributed $214,000 during the last four disclosed months, came in fourth, with a total of $576,698. Rounding out Bush's top five career patrons was UBS AG Inc. ($490,800).
In its 2003 filings with the Senate Office of Public Records, the credit card firm disclosed that it lobbied Congress, the Bush administration and the Treasury Department on a host of issues, including provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act on banking records, amendments to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, and tax issues. The firm reported spending a total of $5.2 million on lobbying that year.
The Center first identified Enron as Bush's top career patron four years ago in "The Buying of the President 2000."
A more recent Center study about the Enron scandal found that seven of the company's employees who have been indicted by the federal government have personally donated to the various Bush campaigns—including former chief executive Jeffrey K. Skilling.
Bush's largest donor from Enron remains longtime friend and former chief executive officer Kenneth Lay. He and his family have given the president $139,500 over the years, which accounts for almost a quarter of Enron's contributions to Bush. Lay is under investigation but "is the only top executive in the major corporate scandals who has not been indicted," according to the Wall Street Journal.
So far the president's campaign has raised $146.4 million and spent $40.8 million. During the last four months Bush is raising an average of $497,832 a day.
Meanwhile, Democratic frontrunner Sen. John Kerry of Mass. raised a total of $32.9 million and spent $30.6 million. He raised an average of $104,899 a day for the last four months.
Being criticized for taking money from lobbying firms did not stop the Kerry campaign from accepting donations from such groups in January. In fact, the Center found, four of Kerry's top five donors during January were lobbying firms: Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi ($28,500); Fried Frank Harris Shriver & Jacobson ($10,500); Greenberg Traurig ($10,000); and Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld ($9,500). Rounding out the list was the non-lobbying law firm, Kreindler & Kreindler ($19,500).
The contributions from Robins, Kaplan were large enough to move the group into Kerry's top 10 list of career patrons for the first time. The firm, which lobbies on some insurance-related legislation, has given Kerry more than $135,000 throughout his career.
Both Top 10 Career Patron lists for Rep. Dennis Kucinich and Rev. Al Sharpton remained unchanged with only a total of $1,000 in new contributions between both Top 10 lists.www.publicintegrity.org/bop2004/report.aspx?aid=220E-mail this article