Chief of ‘Supermarket to World’ a Super Giver to Pols
WASHINGTON (AP) _ When Republicans took control of Congress this year, $100,000 poured into their treasury in a single month from one of the giants of agribusiness, Dwayne Andreas.
Democrats, too, have done well. Andreas was co-chairman of a $3.5 million fund-raising dinner for President Clinton last year, and wrote checks for more than $450,000 for Democrats in 1993 and 1994.
The Archer Daniels Midland chairman and chief executive officer is an equal opportunity benefactor of politicians _ and a towering figure in an industry that prodigiously uses federal subsidies.
His company is now the subject of an antitrust investigation sparked by an executive-turned-mole. And the Agriculture Department’s inspector general has seen potential conflicts of interest in decisions by an Andreas nephew while serving on the board of a department center.
But Andreas insists all the talk about influence is simply wrong.
``We have no influence,″ he says.
``I have never had the opportunity, or made an effort, to educate a president,″ says this blue-ribbon adviser to four presidents.
It’s a stance at odds with recollections of grateful friends in both parties, and of campaign-finance watchdogs who say his history of bipartisan giving is unmatched.
``Major contributors get special attention _ that’s the way it is,″ said John Block, agriculture secretary under Ronald Reagan. ``He’s been a major contributor and certainly been able to get special consideration.″
Andreas, 77, is known for seeing things his own way.
Rattling thunderstorms soothe him, he told his biographer, because they bring nitrogen to the fields.
He looks at the humble soybean and corn plant and sees spectacular riches, through products, additives and ingredients used in practically every American home and in millions abroad.
He surveys his decades of bipartisan political giving and says it amounts to nothing more than good citizenship. ``We maintain no business related contact with elected officials. ... There’s little they can do for us or against us,″ he says.
Andreas wouldn’t be interviewed but responded in writing to questions.
The government investigation has been a rude twist in a career gilded with corporate success and ties to the political elite.
Mark Whitacre, an ADM vice president who made secret recordings for the government, accuses the $11-billion company of colluding with others to fix prices on additives derived from corn. The company fired him and accused him of stealing at least $2.5 million.
A recent audit by the Agriculture Department’s inspector general shows how close agribusiness and government can get.
The investigation showed Martin Andreas, a senior ADM vice president and Andreas’ nephew, chaired the board of a government center that gave $2.4 million to projects, partners or business interests of his company.
The younger Andreas has now left the board.
On a happier topic for the company, rare is the kitchen without some item touched by ADM, ``supermarket to the world.″ Coke, Skippy peanut butter, Dannon yogurt, Ritz crackers, Heinz ketchup and Campbell’s chicken noodle soup are just a taste of the items with ADM processing in the mix.
And rare is the big-league politician who has not been boosted one time or another by the company boss.
Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, a farm-state Republican running for president, has been especially favored, and especially supportive of agribusiness policies that have been decided in the Senate by as few as one vote.
Presidential candidates from both parties for at least 30 years have gotten money from him, as have the most influential members of Congress.
``Andreas is the largest double giver of soft money since records have been kept,″ says Don Simon of Common Cause, which monitors political spending.
``What you see are enormous amounts of money going into elected officials and very, very favorable political results coming out of the system that benefit his company not by millions, but by billions.″
Indeed, a study by the libertarian Cato Institute released Tuesday surveyed the ethanol tax breaks, price support programs and grain-export subsidies benefiting ADM and declared the company ``the nation’s most arrogant welfare recipient.″
But Andreas says food goes to the core of the national interest and pristine free enterprise doesn’t exist in agriculture anywhere.
``Urban society,″ he said, ``should not scream about so-called agricultural subsidies with their mouths full.″
In 1993 and 1994, ADM was the second largest contributor of soft money to both parties _ for party-building activities, not for specific candidates _ giving more than $826,000, behind America Financial Corp.
In the first half of this year, government reports show ADM, Andreas and his family have given $215,000 in soft money to the two parties and more than $55,000 to 45 candidates.
``He was an equal opportunity contributor,″ said Democratic consultant Bob Beckel, who managed Walter Mondale’s 1984 presidential campaign.
``Not only is that unusual, but he was so obvious. He wasn’t trying to hide anything _ he had a lot at stake. I think he wanted to ensure his voice would be heard.″
ADM, which handles one quarter of the nation’s corn and more than half its ethanol, is a leading beneficiary of tax breaks worth at least $600 million a year for the promising but costly fuel.
The House Ways and Means Committee voted last week to carve $1.8 billion from ethanol subsidies through 2002. The idea may face tough hurdles in the Senate, where Dole has been steadfastly behind ethanol.