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Archive for Tuesday, October 15, 2002

Airlines spend millions to influence lawmakers

October 15, 2002

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— Airlines are paring flights and employees but not their spending to influence Congress.

The industry received $15 billion in grants and loan guarantees from Congress after the Sept. 11 attacks and now is looking for more help.

Legislation in the House would set up a new system for screening mail and packages so passenger airlines can resume the lucrative business of carrying it; reimburse the industry for the cost of installing new, stronger cockpit doors; and enable airlines to continue buying terrorism insurance at current premiums.

The airline industry expects to lose more than $7 billion this year because of fewer passengers and higher security costs, according to the Air Transport Assn., the trade group for major airlines. But the money woes haven't curtailed spending on lobbying and campaign contributions, which totaled more than $27 million between Jan. 1, 2001, and Aug. 31, 2002.

"There is something a little bizarre about having their hand out for money on one hand and greasing palms with the other," said Charles Lewis, director of the Center for Public Integrity, a watchdog group.

Industry officials say they're just participating in the political process.

"There is no industry that is more regulated, taxed and controlled by the federal government than airlines," said Todd Burke, spokesman for American Airlines, which gave almost $1 million to federal candidates and political parties and spent $5.4 million on lobbying since Jan. 1, 2001.

"Accordingly, we do pay attention to actions of the government that have either positive or negative effect on our employees, customers and shareholders."

The Air Transport Assn. spent $2.6 million on lobbying between July 1, 2001, and June 30. That was 30 percent higher than the $2 million spent by the trade group the previous 12 months.

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