Ford Motor Co. gave a total of $108,500 between 1999 and the present to the federal legislators who had oversight over the controversy involving Firestone tires mounted on Ford Explorers, according to figures from the Federal Election Commission and the Center for Responsive Politics.
Bridgestone/Firestone (BFS), meanwhile, didn't even have a political action committee (PAC) for nearly all of that time, but now is starting one up. ``We believe that this is something we should have been doing and are now going to do,'' a spokeswoman for the Nashville, Tenn.-based tire maker said.
Ford's PAC contributions to members of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation and the House Committee on Energy and Commerce comprised 16.8 percent of the total $645,750 Ford gave to all political candidates between the start of the 1999-2000 election cycle and Feb. 1, 2002.
The $66,000 given to those committee members in 1999-2000 constituted 15.2 percent of the $433,250 the Ford PAC gave to all federal candidates during the period, while the $42,500 handed out so far during the 2001-02 election cycle makes up 19.6 percent of the $216,500 given to all candidates.
The Center for Responsive Politics said Ford has given 81 percent of its money to Republican candidates so far this election cycle and 78 percent in 1999-2000.
The proportion of funds to the Democratic members of the two committees was considerably higher than the average-$24,500 or 37.1 percent of the total in 1999-2000 and $11,000 or 25.8 percent in 2001-02. A large part of the reason for this is Rep. John D. Dingell, D-Mich., ranking Democrat on the House Commerce Committee and long a champion of auto industry interests in Washington. He received $10,000 from Ford in 1999-2000 and has gotten $2,500 from the auto maker so far this election cycle.
Another large single contribution-$8,000-went to former Virginia Gov. George Allen, who defeated three-term incumbent Chuck Robb to give the Virginia GOP a seat in the Senate. Mr. Allen was assigned to the Senate Commerce Committee soon after his election.
Of all the money Ford's PAC gave, only $13,000-about 3 percent-went to Senate committee members. There was no ready explanation for this, although Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is both the ranking Republican on Senate Commerce and the leading congressional champion of campaign finance reform.
Ford and BFS played out their feud dramatically in front of both committees and their relevant subcommittees during the fall of 2000. Since-ousted Ford CEO Jacques Nasser insisted the rollover accidents that killed 271 motorists on U.S. highways were due solely to tread separations on Firestone tires, whereas BFS Chairman John T. Lampe claimed the design of the Ford Explorers on which the tires were mounted was also at fault.
BFS had its hopes dashed earlier this year, when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration declined the tire maker's petition to open a defect investigation on the Explorer. Soon afterward, BFS said it established the Bridgestone/Firestone Americas Holding PAC, effective Jan. 25.
``One thing we've learned is that it's really important for corporations to be part of the political process,'' the company spokeswoman said. The PAC is still in a very preliminary stage, she added, and is just now getting ready to do its first full-scale solicitation for funds.