The $800 Million Men

          WE'VE HEARD A lot from the chattering classes this election year about the "reinvigorated" labor movement, which is funneling some $35 million into supporting Bill Clinton and the Democrats. But union members hoping their dollars will buy them significant influence in Washington are bound to be disappointed: A new study released last week by the Center for Responsive Politics, an independent watchdog group, reports that this year's presidential election will cost a record $800 million--three times more than in 1992. Another $800 million will be spent on congressional races. And most of this money for both parties comes from businesses and the wealthy, dwarfing labor's spending by nearly 40 to one.

          The power of these obscene amounts of money from the corporate classes is evident in Bill Clinton's Indonesian connection, which produced policies that followed Clinton's NAFTA and GATT sellouts to the multinationals and hurt American workers.

          From the beginning, Clinton's Commerce Department under former Democratic National Chair Ron Brown used foreign trade missions to shake down American businesses. Testimony and documents produced in a lawsuit brought by Judicial Watch show how this worked. Melissa Moss was the chief fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee under Ron Brown until Brown brought her to Commerce, where she was put in charge of organizing his trade missions--or, more properly, selling them. The DNC offered corporate donors of $100,000 or more to the Democrats seats on Brown's official trade missins, not just to Indonesia but to Russia, South Africa, and Latin America.

          The rapporteur on these missions, who took notes on the agreements Brown brokered between U.S. corporate executives and foreign officials and made sure they were followed up by Commerce, was Melinda Yee, who helped the Indonesian Lippo Group's John Huang--then the Department's international economic policy chief, now a DNC finance vice-chair--raise $5 million from Asian-related businesses (including the illegal $250,000 Korean contribution and the laundered cash that passed through Buddhist temples, a phony foundation making unauthorized use of Gandhi's name, and other cute pass-alongs).

          At the beginning of the Clinton administration, then-U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor announced a review of Indonesian labor policies as part of a U.S. program that gives reduced tariffs to developing countries if they're making progress on workers' rights. The Indonesian military dictatorship of General Suharto has kept the country a prime source of cheap labor for multinationals by totalitarian methods that violate international labor laws. The Indonesian armed forces have been used to break strikes, intimidate workers, and arrest union leaders. But after a White House get-together between Clinton and James Riady (scion of the Indonesian family that controls Lippo) that included Huang--and further meetings between the administration's key trade negotiators with Lippo executives--Kantor in 1994 canceled his labor-policy review, allowing Indonesia to keep its tariff preferences.

          Since then, according to Human Rights Watch Asia, the only union allowed to function has been the government-controlled All Indonesia Workers Union, and "intervention by the military in industrial disputes remains routine." This keeps wages low, which pleases the Fortune 500 companies whose support Clinton has assiduously courted, encouraging them to ship U.S. jobs to General Suharto's wage slaves.

          Even the election of a Democratic Congress--U.S. labor's key goal this year--won't help this situation much if the case of Tom Bruggere, the Democrats' Senate candidate in Oregon, is any indication. Labor has made the race a priority. A fiscal-conservative multimillionaire, Bruggere made his money in computer software--in part by outsourcing hundreds of jobs of low-wage Indonesians.

          Clinton's Indonesia connection is a paradigm of "bipartisanship," so much so that Democratic Senator Russell Feingold of Wisconsin (the co-author of a failed campaign finance reform bill) has called for a special prosecutor to be appointed. But as Feingold put it, the real problem is not simply that what went down may have been illegal; the real scandal is that so much of this sort of thing is perfectly legal. CP

A new study released last week by the Center for Responsive Politics reports that this year's presidential election will cost a record $800 million--three times more than in 1992. The same sum will be spent on congressional races.

 
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