So You Want to Buy a President?

Dwayne Andreas

Perhaps America's champion all-time campaign contributor is Dwayne Orville Andreas. Although virtually unknown to most Americans, since the 1970s, leading politicians of both parties have been well acquainted with Andreas, his company, and his money.

The 77-year-old Andreas rose from modest circumstances to become chairman of the Archer-Daniels-Midland Company, which is based in Decatur, Illinois, and is the largest U.S. processor of farm commodities such as wheat, corn and soybeans.

Born to a Mennonite farm family outside Worthington, Minnesota, Andreas grew up mostly in Iowa and attended Wheaton College in Illinois. But after getting married in his sophomore year, the diminutive (height: 5-foot-4) Andreas dropped out and joined a small, family-owned food-processing firm in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

The family eventually sold out its business, and Andreas wound up at A.D.M., becoming its chief executive in 1971. He has converted a company once known primarily as a soybean mill into a diversified multinational powerhouse with more than $12 billion in annual sales. Former U.S. Ambassador Robert Strauss, who is a close friend of Andreas and an A.D.M board member, told FRONTLINE: "He's a very able businessman, probably the ablest one I've ever known."

While Andreas has been building A.D.M. into the self-proclaimed "Supermarket to the World," -- a phrase known to millions of Americans who watch A.D.M.-sponsored news and public affairs on both PBS and the commercial networks -- he has shown an extraordinary knack for cultivating powerful politicans. Among his past close friends and golfing partners: Republican presidential nominee Thomas Dewey and House Speaker Thomas (Tip) O'Neill, a Democrat. He was particularly close to Vice-President Hubert Humphrey, who was godfather to Andreas's son, Michael. Andreas has often been photographed with world leaders, including Mikhail Gorbachev. A statue of Ronald Reagan occupies a place of honor at A.D.M.'s headquarters.

As far back as Watergate, Andreas' political giving has thrust him into controversy. A Watergate-era investigation led to criminal charges that he had illegally contributed $100,000 to Humphrey's 1968 campaign for President, but Andreas was acquitted. And his $25,000 cash donation to President Nixon's re-election bid in 1972 became a focus of Watergate inquiry into abuses surrounding unreported campaign money. According to an investigative memo uncovered in 1992 that quotes President Nixon's personal secretary Rosemary Woods, Andreas delivered $100,000 in $100 bills to the White House shortly before the 1972 election. Woods stored the money in a basement safe for about a year, when the President had her return the cash to Andreas.

Andreas, who earns a $3.6 million salary, has continued donating generously to many Democratic and Republican candidates -- "tithing," he calls it. Over the years he has given money to Senator Bob Dole, President Clinton, President Bush, President Carter, Michael Dukakis, Jack Kemp, and Jesse Jackson, among others. Between 1981 and 1994, Senator Dole and his political foundations collected $178,000 in contributions from Andreas, members of Andreas' family and A.D.M. executives, according to Common Cause, a nonpartisan watchdog group in Washington. Andreas and A.D.M. have also given more than $2 million in "soft money" to the Democratic and Republican parties since 1991, according to federal records.

Meanwhile, Dole has become known to some as "Senator Ethanol" because of his longtime, staunch support of federal tax subsidies for corn-based ethanol, a gasoline additive. A.D.M., which produces sixty percent of all U.S. ethanol, has been a major beneficiary. Congressional fans of ethanol, many of them, like Dole, representatives of corn states, say it has helped ease US dependence on foreign oil. Others are not convinced. Recently New Jersey Senator Bill Bradley told The Boston Globe, "This billion-dollar tax break is nothing more than a gift to a single, politically connected industry." Andreas' critics link federal subsidies -- including sugar price supports and the ethanol tax break -- to the influence that they say his political dollars have bought him among elected officials. The sugar subsidy has the effect of raising the price of a corn syrup sweetner, another important A.D.M. product. In his stock reply to such charges, Andreas says, "We do not talk to any government official about our business."

Currently , however, the company has bigger problems than its reputation for political giving. Federal prosecutors are investigating allegations that the company has conspired to fix commodity prices. A.D.M. has denied any wrongdoing.

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