Stress free flying 2000?
Mon, 25 Oct 1999 08:28:42 EDT

A friend sent me this article and I am glad to find out the 'Porkbusters' ar=
hard at work keeping the 'Porkbarrel' alive and well. It occurred to me that=
once more I was paying for something (my and your tax dollars) that would=20
have little or no impact on my life--And to think I (and you) are paying for=
it twice. After all where do the airlines get the money to contribute. I=20
suppose I won't be able to scream anymore when they misplace my luggage (the=
never lose it) and when it arrives just a tad too late with that dress I was=
going wear that night to that special function in that same rumpled suit I=20
wore all day. Does anyone know if Don Carty or Gerry Greenwald have their=20
luggage misplaced and how they handle it.

Anne :-)

<<As 'Soft Money' Flew In, A McCain Crusade Faded
Airlines Thwarted Passenger Rights Bill
By Michael Grunwald
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 20, 1999; Page A01=20

In February, with customer complaints about air travel at an all-time high,=20
Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) took off on a=20
passenger rights crusade. He filed an Airline Passenger Fairness Act to forc=
airlines to clean up their acts, then held a dramatic hearing to spotlight=20
tales of marooned, bumped and otherwise mistreated travelers. The issue was=20
so hot that several senators began sharing their own airline horror stories.

In June, though, after the airline industry announced a voluntary plan to=20
improve customer service -- and directed a hasty infusion of "soft money"=20
donations to both political parties -- the issue seemed to disappear. McCain=
replaced his bill with a much weaker version that simply encourages airlines=
to follow their own plans, and his committee overwhelmingly approved the=20
substitute. "We were stunned," recalled Aviation Consumer Action Project=20
director Paul Hudson. "This wasn't just a sweetheart deal; it was a giveaway=

For the last week, McCain has focused on a different crusade -- his=20
unsuccessful quest to persuade the Senate to ban soft money, the unregulated=
unlimited contributions that corporations and others are permitted to give t=
political parties. All week long, the Senate's critics of campaign finance=20
changes have attacked McCain's main argument, the idea that such=20
contributions make the entire system look corrupt -- even when there's no=20
evidence of any specific politician doing anything corrupt. But there are fe=
more vivid illustrations of his argument about dirty appearances than this=20
spring's furor over passenger rights. It's just that in this case, McCain --=
unfairly, he insists -- is at the center of the controversy.

"I don't think you can argue that I changed my view on this issue because of=
soft money; maybe other senators did, but I didn't," said the blunt-spoken=20
McCain, a candidate for the GOP presidential nomination. "But the fact is,=20
the system tars all of us. . . . Appearances definitely count."

As it turns out, the airline industry had a June giveaway of its own; in jus=
the week before the committee vote, it shelled out $226,000 in soft money.=20
American Airlines, for example, pumped $85,000 into National Republican=20
Senatorial Committee coffers the day before the vote; it gave $50,000 to=20
another GOP committee the day of the vote. Overall, in the first six months=20
of this year, the airlines spent more than $1.3 million on political=20
donations -- including $982,000 in soft money -- and nearly $3 million on=20

This month, Common Cause published a report arguing that the industry escape=
the proposed regulations through "well-timed large political contributions=20
and intensive lobbying." The report does not accuse anyone of specific=20
wrongdoing. It simply suggests that on Capitol Hill, money usually talks.

"The average citizen has no illusions about what's going on," said Common=20
Cause president Scott Harshbarger, a former attorney general in=20
Massachusetts. "The airlines gave generously, and they gave at the right=20
time. It's no accident that they got first-class treatment."

In an interview, McCain said he was never told about the industry's=20
last-minute donations to his party, and noted that NRSC Chairman Mitch=20
McConnell (R-Ky.), who decides how a great deal of the GOP's soft money is=20
spent, is "not exactly a dear friend." And he did make clear when he filed=20
his original bill that he might back off if the airlines agreed to improve=20
service; he warns that he will refile the bill if the industry does not keep=
its word.

Then again, McCain readily concedes that no matter how strong their argument=
against federal mandates may have been, the airlines probably expected more=20
than good government for their money. As chairman of one of the Senate's mos=
powerful committees, he is a magnet for campaign donations from those with=20
interests in federal legislation -- he is the Senate's fourth-largest=20
beneficiary of airline money -- and he acknowledges cash can buy access.

"I've admitted that I've fallen prey to it myself," McCain said. "Big people=
have access to my office that ordinary Americans don't have. That's one=20
reason we need reform."

On the Senate floor, McConnell and other critics of campaign changes have=20
attacked McCain for refusing to point out specific examples of corruption,=20
and no one has suggested that anyone did anything illegal. Al Becker, a=20
spokesman for American Airlines, said there was "no linkage whatsoever"=20
between his company's donations and the committee's decision to back off his=
industry for now. "People always think campaign contributions are tied to=20
this or that," Becker said. "The fact is, we participate in the political=20
process, just as every company of any size=20

The question, consumer activists and campaign finance overhaul advocates lik=
McCain ask, is what if you're not a company of any size? Then how do you=20
participate in the political process?

This spring, consumer advocates thought there was an excellent chance that=20
Congress would crack down on airlines. Vice President Gore was touting the=20
administration's support for a Passenger Bill of Rights, and McCain joined=20
forces with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) on the lead bill in Congress.

The issue reached its cruising altitude after McCain's hearing, which=20
featured angry citizens testifying about their nightmarish encounters with=20
airline bureaucracies -- unexplained delays, lost luggage, sudden=20
cancellations, rude employees and so on.

McCain and Wyden rounded up broad support for new federal requirements that=20
airlines tell passengers when flights are overbooked and whether they were=20
offered the cheapest fares, and give prior notice and honest explanations fo=
delays and cancellations. McCain scoffed at industry claims that his bill=20
would boost fares: "How does telling the truth about delays increase costs?"

"These were very modest reforms," recalled Wyden, the only member of the=20
Commerce Committee to vote against the watered-down bill. "We weren't talkin=
about a constitutional right to fluffy pillows. I was very surprised when I=20
got creamed in committee."

In mid-June, after negotiations with McCain and other committee members,=20
industry executives announced a voluntary plan to come clean about delays,=20
deliver baggage on time and help passengers find low fares. McCain promptly=20
congratulated them and announced a bipartisan compromise to scale back his=20
bill. But passenger groups, which were not included in the talks, denounced=20
the deal. One consumer group issued a news release titled "Airlines Promise=20
to Be Nice and Stop Lying in Exchange for Senate Killing Passenger Rights=20
Legislation." The overbooking issue was not even addressed in the airlines'=20
voluntary plan.

"Something's not right when the chief sponsors abandon a reform bill without=
consulting any consumer groups," said Hudson of the Aviation Consumer Action=
Project. "There was an awful lot of money floating around. I find it pretty=20
ironic to hear McCain talking about campaign finance reform now."

The airlines have contributed more than $11 million to candidates and partie=
over the past decade; Phoenix-based America West has been one of McCain's to=
benefactors. But McCain also supports airline deregulation on ideological=20
grounds -- he generally prefers industry solutions to government rules -- an=
every committee member except Wyden agreed with his solution in June. So=20
while David Fuscus of the Air Transport Association of America conceded that=
the industry's latest donations "look bad" because of timing, he said the=20
notion that it ducked regulations because of its contributions is "absolutel=

"The committee just wanted to give us a chance to improve on our own," Fuscu=
said. "Look, the airline industry is no different than any other industry.=20
When an issue is important to us, we get involved in the process. That's an=20
important part of American democracy."

Soft Money Lands in Committees

"Soft money" given by top airline donors to national party committees, Jan.=20=
through June 30, 1999

Donors Democrats Republicans =20=

American Airlines $120,000 $228,056 $348,05=

Air Transport Association of America 55,300 110,550 165,850

US Airways Group Inc. 15,250 103,168 118,4=

United Airlines 55,000 63,120 =20

Northwest Airlines 90,000 6,500 =20

Continental Airlines 41,250 37,500 =20

Southwest Airlines 15,000 10,400 =20

Soft money contributions from airlines on June 22 and 23, 1999

Donors Committee Date Amount

American Airlines National Republican Senatorial Committee June 22=20

US Airways National Republican Senatorial Committee June 22=20

US Airways Republican Dinner Committee Jun=
22 20,000

American Airlines Republican Dinner Committee June 2=

Continental Airlines Republican Dinner Committee June 2=

United Airlines Republican Dinner Committee June=
23 20,000

NOTE: The Republican Dinner Committee divides its proceeds between the=20
NRSC and the National Republican Congressional Committee.=20

SOURCE: Common Cause=20

=A9 Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company