Commerce sets rules to halt politicization of trade trips Campaign donations no longer to play role

March 04, 1997|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- The Commerce Department announced new rules yesterday designed to prevent abuses of its overseas trade missions, amid charges that key Clinton administration officials have favored political contributors in deciding which business executives go on such trips.

The new regulations prohibit any consideration of a company's political contributions in selecting the companies whose executives will take part in such missions. They also set up procedures designed to insulate the entire process from political pressures.

Commerce Secretary William M. Daley, who had promised to clean up the system when he took office a month ago, pledged that "there will be no politics allowed" in the new process. He also lifted the 30-day moratorium he had imposed on such trips in February.

He also defended Vice President Al Gore, the target of recent newspaper reports about his role in soliciting political contributions, as a man with especially high integrity.

But Daley conceded that "the system" of campaign financing "has gotten totally out of whack -- at a presidential, Senate, congressional, local level -- the cost of these elections all the way down to aldermen, councilmen all the way back up to the president."

The controversy over the trade missions emerged after allegations that the late Secretary Ronald H. Brown, who died in a plane crash in Croatia in April while on such a trip, had politicized the export-promotion program.

Daley has also pledged to cut 100 of the department's 260 political appointees by year's end. He said he could accomplish much of the cutback through attrition. Department officials say about 50 of those job slots already are vacant.

Critics contend that in recent years trade missions favored those companies or executives who had -- or soon were about to make -- contributions to the Clinton campaign or to the Democratic National Committee.

The new rules include:

Selection of corporate participants in department trade missions will be made by a panel of three career officials -- not political appointees -- and reviewed by a five-member board that includes both career lawyers and senior appointed officials.

Panel members will be barred from considering politics in making their choices.

The department will develop a detailed plan for each trip, outlining the goal of the mission and setting "objective, written criteria" for the kinds of companies and executives that would best fit the mission's objectives.

The entire process will be made public after each trip. The department also will ask participants to pay their share of air fare and other costs.

Pub Date: 3/04/97

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