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Highway To Success Paved With Donations Road Projects Big Winners In Budget And Tax Deals Thanks To Open Checkbooks And Heavy Lobbying

Highway builders have lobbied hard over the years - with hard cash - for government money to finance road projects.

In the last six years, they gave more than $3 million in political donations to get the attention of lawmakers in Washington, the watchdog group Common Cause said.

The effort seems to have paid off: The recent budget and tax deal included a provision to funnel a gas tax increase into a federal highway fund could yield an extra $7 billion annually for transportation. The money was to have gone toward paying down the national deficit.

The builders’ perquisite illustrates a pattern of special provisions in the budget deal for big soft-money donors, Common Cause said in a report released Sunday.

“Many of the companies and individuals that play the soft-money game the best emerged as the biggest winners in the budget and tax agreement,” said Ann McBride, Common Cause’s president.

Soft-money donations are unlimited, unregulated contributions to political parties from corporations, unions and wealthy donors.

Common Cause opposes the idea and wants tighter rules on political donations. It released the report on budget-deal winners as the Senate debates a campaign reform bill that would outlaw big corporate contributions.

The budget deal was chock full of clauses that benefit big donors, the report says.

Six years of spending by the highway construction industry handed out almost $2 million to Democrats and $1.4 million to the Republicans. Industry groups lobbied successfully to get a 4.3-cent deficit-reduction gas tax increase applied to the Highway Trust Fund, Common Cause said.

Other special interests that were big winners:

Broadcasters who received billions of dollars in digital spectrum rights from the Federal Communications Commission gave $5 million in soft money to the two major parties.

Oil and chemical companies will save $1.7 billion annually because the tax deal did not reimpose Superfund taxes. Two business coalitions representing the firms gave $24 million in soft money to Republicans and Democrats over the last six years.

Golden Rule Insurance will get a boost for its medical savings account business because the budget deal lets some Medicare recipients get health care coverage through the accounts. The company and its executives gave $800,000 in soft money since 1991, mostly to Republicans.

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