Austin American-Statesman
May 1, 1999

Polluters' donations to Bush criticized

Activists say gifts for presidential bid wouldn't be allowed by state law

By Osler McCarthy

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    Gov. George W. Bush took more than $300,000 in contributions for a presidential run that would be illegal under state law during the legislative session, according to two environmental-activist groups opposing Bush's remedy for legally polluting industry.

    The environmental activists said Bush's presidential exploration committee took the money from people affiliated with companies that have an interest in Bush's voluntary-compliance bill to allow polluting companies a choice to be covered by the state's air-quality law.

    Under Texas ethics law, elected officials cannot accept campaign contributions during a legislative session. But Bush's exploration committee is governed by federal law, which does not have the same restrictions.

    Robin Schneider, development director of Public Research Works, called on Bush to give the money back.

    No, answered Bush's presidential committee spokeswoman, Mindy Tucker.

    "The people of Texas know Governor Bush bases his decisions on what is right for Texas," Tucker said.

    "He's the first governor -- to my knowledge, the first nationally -- initially to come up with a way to get industry to cut down on pollution."

    But that's the issue in dispute over the voluntary-compliance legislation passed by the Senate and pending in the House. Schneider's group and the Sustainable Energy & Economic Development Coalition, hitting at Bush in a one-two punch at the press conference Friday, want legislation that would force so-called grandfathered polluters to comply with air-quality laws.

    Grandfathered plants were either planned or in existence when the state adopted tougher air control laws and were exempt from the tougher standards.

    Schneider and Peter Altman, director of the coalition, told reporters that campaign contributions Bush has taken for his possible presidential bid since March 4 included $169,400 from officers of companies operating grandfathered plants, or their spouses. Another $146,900 came from two law firms representing the two largest grandfathered polluters in Texas, Aluminum Co. of America (Alcoa) and Texas Utilities.

    A spokesman for one of the law firms, Houston-based Vinson & Elkins, which represents Alcoa, said $138,900 given by lawyers in the firm represented individual contributions he helped solicit for Bush, a friend.

    "We don't consult with our clients about political contributions," said Tom Marinis, a partner in the firm.

    Altman said documents obtained by state open records law show many of the companies with grandfathered plants -- which contributed to Bush's presidential bid -- worked with the governor's office to head off state regulators who want an end to the exemption for grandfathered plants.

    Public Research Works last month had reported that the grandfathered interests contributed as much as $10 million over six years to Bush, Lt. Gov. Rick Perry and state legislators in both houses.