On the Money Trail With GOP

ABCNEWS’ Brian Ross reports on the wining and dining at the GOP convention that influences legislation — and the corporate executive who said, “Enough is enough.”

By Brian Ross ABCNEWS.com Aug. 3 —Philadelphia’s finest hotel, the Four Seasons, has been set aside this week for what are called the Republican Regents, those executives and lobbyists who have donated more than a quarter-million dollars.

And last night they did not want ABCNEWS anywhere near them, as they pushed our camera away. “Get back, get back, this is private property,” is all they said.

Among those given a prime Four Seasons room by the Republicans was John Scruggs, the chief lobbyist for Phillip Morris.

Scruggs and at least 20 other lobbyists for the embattled tobacco company have been all over the town this week, their access guaranteed by all the money they’ve put up to pay for the parties in honor of the same Republicans who may control any legislation involving the tobacco industry.

When asked why they contribute so much money to the Republican Party — almost $3 million during the 1997-1999 election cycle — Scruggs answered: “Well, we feel that he [Gov. Bush] has been responsive to our issues and what we have to say.”

Is that a kind of legal bribe?

“Oh no, we don’t think so, not at all,” Scruggs says.

Shakedown?

But now even some corporate executives are saying big money and politics, Phillip-Morris-style, have gone just too far.

As the CEO of one of the world’s biggest accounting firms, Ed Kangas of DeLoitte and Touche is an unlikely whistle blower.

“I believe the system today is corrupt,” says Kangas, who heads a group of some 250 other corporate executives who say the system has turned into what they call a kind of mafia shakedown.

“You will get asked for a major contribution with the implied message that if you play ball, you’ll be helped,” he says. “If you don’t, you’ll get hurt.”

Still, many here like the way it works.

Millions of dollars were spent this convention by the rich wining and dining the powerful — on king-sized yachts, at extravagant parties and at exclusive country clubs, where one man was seen thumbing through a stack of donation checks.

A rare glimpse of access and influence for sale, often proving to be money well spent.

“If you go and look at the voting records of many congressmen and look at the amount of contributions they receive from various groups,” Kangas says, “there is almost a direct correlation.”

And as it stands now, little has been done to stop it. Many of the same corporate lobbyists who laid out so much money here will now cover their bets by heading to Los Angeles to do the same things with the Democrats.