WASHINGTON — Like much of corporate America, plastics processors seem to have a clear choice for president: Texas Gov. George W. Bush. Among campaign contributions from processors, Bush has a commanding 12-1 lead over his nearest Republican rival still left in the race. On the Democratic side, Vice President Al Gore enjoys an advantage over former Sen. Bill Bradley, in spite of some industry concerns that Gore is too close to environmentalists.
Plastics News took a look at campaign contributions from a sample of about 150 plastics processors and their family members. Federal Elections Commission reports show Bush enjoying the same dominance in plastics fund raising he has in the rest of corporate America.
Bush raised $54,500 from plastics processors, dwarfing $4,500 given to Gary Bauer, $2,300 to John McCain and $1,650 to Steve Forbes. Elizabeth Dole raised $4,250 from the industry before dropping her bid and endorsing Bush.
"George Bush is electable," said James Nicholas, chairman of injection molder and thermoformer Nicholas Plastics Inc. in Grand Rapids, Mich., who sent Bush $1,000, the maximum an individual can donate directly to a candidate for each election.
Nicholas said Bush has built a large base of support, connects with Middle America and reaches out to minorities.
Bush has a formidable advantage in money nationally — he raised $57.7 million through September, the latest figures available. Forbes was the closest Republican, at $20.6 million, and McCain next at $9.4 million, while Gore raised $24.8 million and Bradley $19.2 million. A Business Week look at general corporate giving through September found that 75 percent of executive donors gave to Bush.
To compile the figures, Plastics News took FEC data for the first 11 months of 1999 and matched it against the newspaper's databases of processors. Some other processor companies not in the databases also were included. The data may not catch every contribution, but provides a snapshot of contribution trends.
Bush's next-closest rival among processors was then-U.S. Rep. John Kasich, R-Ohio, who raised $9,000 from the industry before abandoning the race for president.
Kasich got $4,000 total from employees at extruder Crane Plastics Co., and another $4,000 from distributor Plastic Process Equipment Inc., both of Ohio.
Kasich did not fare that well nationally, but was able to parlay his local support in Ohio — which ranks second in the nation in plastics industry employment — into money.
"We knew he didn't have the clout and the power like Bush, but he's an honest and sincere guy and he's done a good job," said Edward Kuchar, president of Plastic Process Equipment in Macedonia, Ohio.
Kuchar wrote letters and helped organize a fund-raiser for Kasich.
Bauer, a social conservative, fared well from the industry for his long-shot bid.
"I think morals do matter," said Wilhelm Maier, who sent Bauer a $1,000 check.
Maier, president of injection molder Omni Plastics Inc. in Erie, Pa., said it was his first political donation in several years.
Dole may not have attracted as much money as she needed, but she did pick up support from some big names — executives at both Huntsman Packaging Corp. and Lear Corp. gave $1,000.
Richard Durham, president and chief executive officer at packaging giant Huntsman, and Robert Rossiter, president and chief operating officer at automotive molder Lear, contributed. And Dole picked up other support from Huntsman executives — Jon Huntsman co-hosted a $500,000 fund-raiser for her, according to The Buying of the President 2000, a book recently released by the Center for Public Integrity.
Many executives gave to several Republican contenders. Glen Hiner, chairman and chief executive officer at Owens Corning and one of the industry's largest donors, gave $1,000 to both Dole and Bush.
Generally, though, no one would mistake the processing industry for political heavyweights. After all, the biggest donor among them, Robert Williams at Genova Products Inc. in Davison, Mich., gave a total of just $7,000 to federal campaigns, including candidates, parties and political groups that have to report funding to the Federal Election Commission.
The plastics industry is also, not surprisingly, overwhelmingly Republican. GOP candidates running for president, House or Senate got 83 percent of funds, or $128,235.
There are some exceptions.
The second-largest donor among processors, Chicago injection molder Stefen Edlis, gave $5,500 to Democrats.
"I'm concerned who will be nominated to the Supreme Court, whether we are going to maintain the right of a woman's choice or whether we will have school vouchers," said Edlis, president of Apollo Plastics Corp.
Being in Congress "is a terrible job and anyone who sends me a letter, I will send them money."
Edlis regularly contributes money to Democrats, including to President Clinton's legal defense fund.
Edlis gave Gore $1,000, part of $11,750 the vice president collected from the industry.
By contrast, Bradley pulled in $7,500 from processors. Some cash came from industry Democrats who say Gore is too quick to side with environmentalists.
Jack Conner, vice president of PVC food wrap extruder PolyVinyl Films Inc. in Sutton, Mass., said he gave $1,000 to Bradley because he has a "more reasoned approach to environmental policy than Gore."
Presidential candidates got a little less than half of the $201,000 that plastics processors contributed through November. But some executives said they prefer to donate locally.
Orville Johnson, chairman of injection molder UFE Inc. in Stillwater, Minn., and his wife Kathleen contributed only to Republican John Paul Kline's bid to capture a House seat in Minnesota, and to the state's Republican Senator, Rodney Grams.
Johnson said he gives very little at the presidential level.
"I'm not so excited about that because I don't expect to have a relationship with them where I can call and discuss an issue," he said.The $2,000 the Johnsons gave to Kline made him the top recipient of plastics processors among House candidates, collecting $2,500 from the industry.
The top recipient in the Senate was Spencer Abraham, R.-Mich., with $7,200. He not surprisingly drew support from automotive molding heavyweights like Richard Crawford, chairman of Cambridge Industries Inc., Rossiter at Lear and John Spoelhoef, former president at the former Prince Automotive Corp. Williams from Genova also supported Abraham.
Republicans and conservative groups also dominated soft money contributions, with the Republican National Committee topping the list at $8,425, the Michigan Republican State Committee at $5,570, the National Republican Congressional Committee at $3,855. The National Federation of Independent Businesses came in fourth at $3,200.
The data also revealed some interesting tidbits:
Crane Plastics Co. had more donations than any other company, giving $10,500, and Crane family and employee donations ranged across the spectrum from Bush to Bradley.
Dan Quayle did not attract any money from processors identified by Plastics News, in spite of his home state of Indiana ranking seventh in plastics industry employment in the United States.
Lyndon LaRouche got a $200 donation from a machine set-up technician at thermoformer Mercury Plastics Inc. in Chicago. Harold Eulrich said LaRouche would be a good adviser to political leaders, although he said he does not subscribe to LaRouche's conspiratorial views.