Cheney’s Checkbook Democracy

Dick Cheney isn’t so civic-minded as to go to the polls like a commoner, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t participate. He and wife Lynne contribute generously to the campaigns and causes of the extreme right.


Dick Cheney already has admitted he doesn’t thrill at the pseudo-democratic ritual of voting. The media has skewered him for voting only twice in 16 elections since he registered in Texas, and for failing (twice!) to vote for Dubya in this summer’s Texas presidential primary. But the verve he lacks at the voting booth he more than makes up for in his check register.

Cheney and his wife Lynne have anted up more than $65,000 in the past six years to various PACs and Republican statehouse and Whitehouse hopefuls, including George W. Bush during his 1998 Texas gubernatorial campaign and his campaign for the GOP nomination. Other big-name recipients of the Cheneys’ largesse read like Molly Ivins‘ enemies list: Dick Armey, Bob Dole, Kay Bailey Hutchison, Trent Lott, Pete Sessions, Phil Gramm, Tom DeLay, Slade Gorton, Rudolph Giuliani, and others.

Among the Cheneys’ more obscure beneficiaries in the past six years have been right-wing senate candidates Jon Kyl of Arizona, Spencer Abraham of Michigan, John Ashcroft of Missouri, Mike DeWine of Ohio, J.C. Watts of Oklahoma, and George Allen of Virginia. Of these, not one supports a woman’s right to choose or protections against job discrimination for gays and lesbians.

Among their contributions to political action committees, the Cheneys annually showered several thousand dollars on the PAC for Halliburton Co., the oil company Cheney ran until he was chosen by Bush for the GOP ticket. Also receiving Cheney money: Brown & Root, the industrial contractor to which Cheney steered millions in Pentagon contracts when he was defense secretary under Bush Sr., and which Halliburton owns.

The Cheneys also gave generously — $2,000 — to the ultra-right American Renewal PAC — once led by Gary Bauer and now by J.C. Watts — in 1997 and 1998.

Of course, the Cheneys’ contributions were all perfectly legal, and certainly not a stretch for the pair, whose $16 million income over the past five years could more than accommodate a friendly couple thousand between friends.

If Bush and friends have their way though, contribution limits will be raised from $1,000 to as much as $3,400 for each election. According to Bush, raising the limit would “make it easier for candidates to raise money and help more candidates become viable and competitive in the election process.” At least, for those who know rich oil executives and defense contractors.

In fact, had the limits been raised, the Cheneys may have given more. Of the 38 contributions the Cheneys gave directly to candidates since 1995, more than 75 percent matched the $1,000 maximum.

Although $65,000 is a relatively small proportion of his income over the past five years, Cheney is still a high roller when compared with other former cabinet bigwigs from previous administrations.

For example, Henry Kissinger, former secretary of state under presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, donated with his wife just $27,000 to political campaigns in the past nine years. Kissinger, too, has an anemic voting record: just four trips to the ballot box in the past 12 elections in his home state of New York since 1996.

For a Democratic comparison, former secretary of defense under Clinton William Perry and his wife gave just more than $19,000 in the past six years, about one-third of Cheney’s total. Perry, who is now a faculty member at Stanford University, has voted in all four elections held since he registered in his now-home county in California.