AA, still spending millions $$$ on Congress

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Sep 22, 2002
Despite fiscal problems, airlines spend millions to influence Congress
The Associated Press
10/15/02 1:15 AM
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Airlines are paring flights and employees -- but not their spending to influence Congress.
The industry received $15 billion in grants and loan guarantees from Congress after the Sept. 11 attacks and now is looking for more help.
Legislation in the House would set up a new system for screening mail and packages so passenger airlines can resume the lucrative business of carrying it; reimburse the industry for the cost of installing new, stronger cockpit doors; and enable airlines to continue buying terrorism insurance at current premiums.
The airline industry expects to lose more than $7 billion this year because of fewer passengers and higher security costs, according to the Air Transport Association, the trade group for major airlines. But the money woes haven''t curtailed spending on lobbying and campaign contributions, which totaled more than $27 million between Jan. 1, 2001, and Aug. 31, 2002.
There is something a little bizarre about having their hand out for money on one hand and greasing palms with the other, said Charles Lewis, director of the Center for Public Integrity, a watchdog group.
Airline industry officials say they''re just participating in the political process.
There is no industry that is more regulated, taxed and controlled by the federal government than airlines, said Todd Burke, spokesman for American Airlines, which gave almost $1 million to federal candidates and political parties and spent $5.4 million on lobbying since Jan. 1, 2001.
Accordingly, we do pay attention to actions of the government that have either positive or negative effect on our employees, customers and shareholders.
Airline travel has yet to return to pre-Sept. 11 levels. From January to September of this year, the major airlines carried 397.4 million passengers, down 8.3 percent from the 433.3 million they carried during the same nine-month period a year earlier. The industry has cut 51,000 jobs.
The Air Transport Association spent $2.6 million on lobbying between July 1, 2001, and June 30. That was 30 percent higher than the $2 million spent by the trade group the previous 12 months.
It is more important than ever for airlines to remain actively involved in the political process and we make no apologies for our support of candidates who are supportive of us, spokesman Michael Wascom said.
>From January 2001 to August 2002, the entire airline industry contributed $3.9 million to federal candidates and the political parties, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a research group that tracks such spending. The industry spent $4.1 million during the 24-month period from January 1997 to December 1998, the last off-year election.
In addition, the industry spent more than $23 million to lobby Congress between Jan. 1, 2001, and June 30, 2002, according to disclosure forms filed with the House and Senate. The amount represents the salaries and expenses of industry employees and outside lawyers who talk to Congress and the executive branch about airline issues.
During the previous 18-month period, the industry spent $20.1 million, according to Political Money Line, an Internet site that tracks donations and lobbying expenses.
The industry has strong ties to Congress. Airline lobbyists include Linda Daschle, former deputy administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration and wife of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D.; former Sen. Dale Bumpers, D-Ark.; and former House Transportation Committee chairman Bud Shuster, R-Pa.
Airline and airport representatives hosted key lawmakers last January in Hawaii at an airline issues conference. Among the lawmakers attending were Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. Harold Rogers, R-Ky., who chair the congressional subcommittees that write transportation spending bills.
Paul Hudson, executive director of the Aviation Consumer Action Project, an advocacy group, said airlines understand that money equals access in Washington.
When that industry wants something, especially money from the taxpayers, they spend more money on lobbying and political campaign contributions, he said.
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