WASHINGTON -- As President-elect Bush's campaign chairman, Don Evans helped raise nearly $100 million by relying heavily on corporate chieftains who became Bush ''pioneers.'' Now, the commerce secretary nominee is in an extraordinary position to help the business of the pioneers.
A conflict? ''Not an issue,'' Evans responded last week. He said he was picked by Bush because they share a belief in ''free enterprise.'' Still, after eight years of Democratic rule in Washington, there is little doubt that government policy and regulations are about to undergo the overhaul sought by many Bush donors.
Bush's Cabinet plans to review and possibly eliminate many regulations affecting business that went into effect during the Clinton years.
Just as Clinton is using his executive powers to push through a series of last-minute actions, such as Friday's declaration banning roads and logging on millions of acres in national forests, the Bush team plans to move aggressively to help corporate America.
A lobbying blitz is already under way.
''They are happy, certainly,'' Jim Albertine, president of the American League of Lobbyists, said of members of his group. ''There is a strong belief that a lot of things will be reopened. You have for the first time in 50 years a Republican government'' in the White House and Congress.
So far, much of the attention on the incoming administration has focused on the conservatism of three Cabinet nominees: the antiabortion record of John Ashcroft, chosen for attorney general; the property-rights stance of Gale Norton, chosen for interior secretary; and the skeptical view of unions held by Linda Chavez, chosen for labor secretary.
Interest groups and their Democratic allies in Congress are expected to give Ashcroft, Norton, and Chavez a hard time during their confirmation hearings in the next few weeks. But just beneath the radar screen, many Republicans consider the prospect of eliminating regulations and reversing policies as a more realistic and immediate goal than passing Bush's massive tax cut or outlawing abortion.
In some cases, regulations can be undone without congressional review. Within days of taking office, Bush is likely to try to undo some of the ''midnight rules'' that the Clinton administration is pushing through during its final hours. These regulations include rules that cut the amount of pollution from diesel trucks, restrict the amount of timber cut in national forests, and require costlier and more energy-efficient washing machines, air conditioners, and hot water heaters.
''He's been a busy beaver,'' Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer said of Clinton's actions. Fleischer vowed that Bush ''will review each and every one of them. We are taking note of them.''
So are the lobbyists.
Albertine, for example, is lobbying for snowmobile manufacturers who want the incoming administration to end an effort to ban snowmobiles in national parks. He is one of 18,000 people registered to lobby the new administration.
To be sure, there will be intense lobbying on Bush's proposed $1.3 trillion tax bill. But with the Republicans having such narrow majorities in Congress, much of the real lobbying action is expected to take place at regulatory agencies.
''Under the surface, a lot of people and especially businesses know what has happened in the last eight years,'' said Edward Hudgins of the libertarian Cato Institute. ''Tax cuts take legislation and are tougher to do, so removing regulations foisted on the free market is an opening for the Bush administration.''
Such an effort is expected to be welcomed by several Cabinet members, some of whom have longstanding ties to the industries they will regulate and typically have received large political donations from industry, according to a survey by the watchdog group Public Campaign.
Spencer Abraham of Michigan, defeated in his bid for reelection to the US Senate, raised more money from the energy industry than any other senator last year; now he will head the Energy Department. Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson, the nominee at Health and Human Services, collected $277,195 from the health industry in his 1998 campaign, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics. And Norman Mineta, nominated to be transportation secretary, relied greatly on money from the transportation industry as a US House member and previously worked for Lockheed Martin.
''This demonstrates the almost pervasive nature of money and politics,'' said Scott Harshbarger, president of Common Cause. ''The line gets almost totally blurred. How do you oversee an industry that you have come from or raised money from? At what point are you the captive or advocate of these industries as much as the overseer? These industries give a huge amount of money, so the question is, `What do they want in return?'''
Bush's campaign Web site, www.georgewbush.com, demonstrates how much the plans to emphasize energy policy. The Web site's issue paper on energy policy is 7,053 words long; by contrast, the issue paper on affirmative action, which Bush plans to replace with what he calls ''affirmative access,'' is 63 words. Among Bush's goals at the Energy Department are to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration, allow more oil pipelines to be built, and eliminate some energy-efficiency regulations.
The energy industry clearly has an ally in Abraham, who was also the top Senate recipient of funds from the transportation industry. The League of Conservative Voters said Abraham voted with environmental groups 6 percent of the time. If Abraham is confirmed, the Energy Department will be headed by a man who just a few years ago tried to eliminate it.
No industry is better represented in the Bush administration than energy. Bush and Vice President-elect Dick Cheney both ran companies in the oil industry. Evans is about to resign as chairman of Tom Brown Inc., a natural gas company that could benefit from the Bush administration's effort to open more federal lands to gas exploration. While Evans does not directly regulate the energy industry, the Commerce Department oversees the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, which is responsible for surveying global warming. The agency's research plays a major role in determining government energy and antipollution strategy.
Incoming White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card, while not a Cabinet member, is a former lobbyist for the auto industry.
The link between money, politics, and Cabinet positions is hardly unique to the incoming administration. Republicans, in fact, frequently accused President Clinton of selling off everything from Cabinet positions to ambassadorships to the highest bidder. Clinton's first commerce secretary, the late Ron Brown, was criticized by Republicans for taking top Democratic contributors on trade missions.
Bush aides said the Cabinet officers will not be influenced by the political donations, and Bush himself during the campaign criticized the Clinton-Gore administration as driven by such considerations. But it was Evans who oversaw the ''pioneers,'' a group of more than 100 people who were responsible for raising at least $100,000 each, a strategy that helped Bush set a record for fund-raising. An analysis by Texans for Public Justice, a citizen watchdog group, said that most of the pioneers are lawyers, lobbyists, financial services executives, and energy industry representatives.
''Less regulation, less government interferences are platforms that made a lot of sense to a lot of us,'' said one of the pioneers, Joseph O'Donnell, a longtime Bush friend who is chairman of Boston Concessions Group Inc.
Some of the biggest changes to be made by Bush could take place in an indirect fashion. Daniel J. Weiss, the political director of the Sierra Club, doubts that Bush will try to overturn environmental laws with a full-scale assault in Congress. Instead, Weiss fears Bush may try to undo key measures by allowing funding to dry up, making it impossible to enforce regulations. Bush might also try to reverse some of Clinton's actions by rewriting federal land-management plans.
''It is hard to see how they could pass freestanding bills that will directly weaken environmental laws,'' said Weiss, whose organization opposes the nomination of Norton and Ashcroft on environmental grounds. ''A more likely approach could be that they do it by slashing budgets for important programs and do weak enforcement.''
- 106 Money & Politics