USA: Lieberman's Big Donations From Big Businesses

WASHINGTON -- Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Lieberman, who for years has tried to move his party toward the political center, also has worked to expand its base of financial donors.

Lieberman is co-founder of a political action committee called the New Democrat Network that raises money for Democratic candidates from nontraditional sources.

"The New Democrat approach has been to unite the base and expand into a new pool of voters and supporters," said Simon Rosenberg, president of the fund-raising network. The PAC has raised $5.5 million this election cycle, and "Joe has done a great job of balancing traditional Democratic interests while expanding out into a new pool of donors," Rosenberg said.

This is reflected in contributions to his own Senate re-election campaign in Connecticut. His most generous donors are lawyers, Israel supporters and a donor category composed of banks and insurance, investment and real-estate companies. His 2000 Senate campaign has received more than $200,000 from each of those donor groups since 1994. Insurance is a major industry in Connecticut.

An analysis of campaign-finance records released yesterday by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics also showed that Lieberman has received more contributions this election cycle from insurance companies than any other senator. And he ranks third among Senate recipients of contributions from drug companies, an industry that Vice President Al Gore has attacked repeatedly during the campaign.

"He's got more in common with (GOP nominee George W.) Bush than he does with Gore," said Larry Makinson, director of the center, a Washington-based organization that studies campaign-finance reports.

The Gore campaign countered that Lieberman should not be defined by the sources of his campaign money. "Unlike Bush, he supports a prescription-drug benefit under Medicare opposed by the pharmaceutical industry, and as part of the ticket he will fight for one," said Gore spokesman Doug Hattaway. "The issue is whose side you're on and what you're fighting for."

Businesses accounted for three-quarters of Lieberman's campaign contributions since his last election. Labor unions represented 11 percent, according to the center.

"His support from the business community doesn't imply that he's not a good Democrat who is right on the issues the party cares about," said one Democratic strategist. "In fact, in many ways he has shown other Democrats how to package themselves in an appealing manner for business."

It is unclear how some of Lieberman's financial backers will respond to the rhetoric of the ticket he just joined.

In 1997, Lieberman told The Hartford Courant he no longer would solicit so-called "soft money" - huge and largely unrestricted donations from corporations, unions and wealthy individuals - for the New Democrat Network. Lieberman also has criticized strongly the fund-raising excesses of the 1996 Clinton-Gore campaign.

AMP Section Name:Money & Politics
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