Big business gave record sums of money to Republicans in the last election, but GOP Chairman Haley Barbour wants more.
Barbour is particularly unhappy with the Business Roundtable, a group of 200 chief executives from the nation’s biggest companies. If they don’t come around, Barbour hinted Thursday, access to Republicans in Congress may be curtailed.
It may already be. “I’ve been unable to connect with Haley,” Don Fites, CEO of Caterpillar Inc. and Roundtable chairman, complained in a recent letter to members. For someone of Fites’ status, that’s quite a snub.
It’s also surprising, considering that Roundtable members increased their giving to Republican candidates by 50 percent after the GOP gained control of Congress in 1994, according to a Knight-Ridder tally of contributions by all Roundtable members. The tally found that of the $35 million in total contributions, three of every four dollars went to Republicans.
But at a lunchtime gathering with reporters Thursday, Barbour accused the Roundtable of “sitting on its hands” in the November election while organized labor spent “hundreds of millions” trying to “buy a Democratic Congress.”
Big business “should have offered a more extraordinary response to this extraordinary threat,” he said. “To the extent that big business did not do that, we were surprised, we were disappointed.”
Barbour and other top Republicans - including House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia, Majority Leader Dick Armey of Texas, Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas and Rep. John Boehner of Ohio - were expected to drive the point home hard Thursday night at a closed-door dinner with 20 Roundtable CEOs.
Barbour’s outspokenness didn’t sit well with Roundtable business leaders, who don’t like to be told how they should contribute.
“I think Barbour is somewhat misinformed,” said Raymond Garcia, vice president for government affairs at Rockwell International Corp., a high-technology and defense company. “We give not on the basis of party but on the basis of issues.
“If you do that, you’ll find that your money goes to both sides,” Garcia said from his suburban Washington office.
“The world is a lot more complicated than he (Barbour) sees it to be,” said Arthur House, senior vice president of Tenneco, an auto parts company in Greenwich, Conn.
“It’s not labor equals Democrat and business equals Republican; there are pro-business people in the Democratic Party, and decisions about contributions should not be made strictly on a party basis.”
Officially, the Roundtable has been politically neutral since it was founded in 1972, leaving to its members all questions of whom they want to support politically. Some give heavily to Republicans.
Others, especially those that might do business with the administration, give to both parties.
Barbour went out of his way to criticize the Roundtable’s neutrality and laud more partisan groups, such as the National Federation of Independent Business, which represents small companies.
The NFIB tripled its giving to Republicans between 1994 and 1996.
Total giving was under $1 million, but more than nine out of 10 dollars went to Republicans, a Knight-Ridder tally showed.