Northwest leads state's soft money contributors

By Frederic J. Frommer

Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- Northwest Airlines gave nearly $350,000 in soft money contributions last year, the most of any Minnesota company or person.

The contributions also are the most among domestic airlines, just ahead of American Airlines' $306,000, according to Political Money Line, a Web site that tracks campaign contributions.

Two other Minnesota contributors gave more than $200,000 in soft money last year: UnitedHealth Group, a health care company from Minnetonka, which gave about $230,000, and Stanley Hubbard of St. Mary's Point, owner of KSTP-TV and KSTP-AM, who gave $210,000.


Soft money is the unlimited political donations that corporations, labor unions and wealthy individuals can make to political parties but not to specific candidates. It will be banned after this year's elections under campaign finance reform legislation signed by President Bush last month.

Hard money, by contrast, can be donated to candidates, but is limited to $10,000 per election cycle for a corporate political action committee, and $2,000 per election cycle for individuals.

Northwest contributed just under $200,000 to Republicans, and $150,000 to Democrats. None of the contributions were made after Sept. 11, when airlines successfully sought a bailout from Congress following the terrorist attacks.

Kurt Ebenhoch, a spokesman for Northwest Airlines, said the airline generally contributes equally to both parties, and that the majority of the contributions were in-kind free air travel. He declined to provide details or comment further.

Gary Ruskin, who runs the Congressional Accountability Project, a Washington watchdog group, called the contributions an investment for the airline on such issues as airport fees, mergers and airport security that come before Congress.

"Sadly, money is what counts if you want to make your voice heard," he said.

UnitedHealth Group spokesman Roger Cruzen said his company made the contributions to "establish a dialogue with thought leaders" about providing health care to Americans.

"What we hope to get in return is a thoughtful dialogue, and solutions that are effective in terms of solving some of the issues people are concerned with," he said.


UnitedHealth Group gave about two-thirds of its soft money contributions -- $145,000 -- to Republicans, and $85,000 to Democrats. Republicans have generally been more supportive of the industry on issues such as a patient's bill of rights and the right to sue health maintenance organizations.

Cruzen said the company is taking a "wait-and-see" attitude on how it would spend such money once the soft money ban goes into effect, noting that the law is being challenged as unconstitutional.

Hubbard's $210,000 put him 27th among individual soft money contributors nationwide, according to Political Money Line's tabulations. He gave all of it to Republicans.

Hubbard, president of Hubbard Broadcasting, has a net worth of $1.4 billion, according to Forbes magazine. He said he donated to Republicans because they generally opposed campaign finance reform.

"Campaign finance reform is a terrible thing," Hubbard said. "It's an infringement of free speech. It discourages active and healthy participation in our political system."

If courts uphold the new law, Hubbard argued, the only ones who will be heard are newspapers, wire services, and TV and radio stations.

UnitedHealth Group:

Northwest Airlines:



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