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Money in, influence out // ADM'S BUSINESS DECISION

Published Jul. 6, 2006

Anyone who mistook the $100-million fine against the Archer Daniels Midland Co. as a blow against price-fixing _ instead of another example of it _ should look to Wall Street.

As word circulated Monday that ADM would pay the fine, in exchange for the Justice Department's closing a wider criminal probe, the company's stock price soared. With $13-billion in annual sales, and $1.3-billion in cash reserves, the agricultural giant will hardly pass an ethical burp. Just two federal programs _ tax subsidies for ethanol and import quotas for sugar _ bring ADM annual profits of $300-million, or three times the settlement amount pitifully accepted by the Justice Department.

The lawyer for one ADM official aptly described the company's move as "a business decision." If that implies the absence of moral or legal dimension, then it was a business decision, too, for the electioneering Bill Clinton.

When it comes to buying influence in Washington, ADM is an equal opportunity employer. Since 1991, ADM has given more than $1.5-million to the Republican Party and $800,000 to Democrats. A $25,000 check from chairman Dwayne O. Andreas landed in the Miami bank account of a Watergate burglar. The company bought President Jimmy Carter's peanut farm, and Andreas has helped raise millions for Clinton's Democratic party.

Andreas rode with Clinton aboard Air Force One to the funeral of another good friend, Richard Nixon. He lounges poolside in Miami Beach with Bob Dole, to whose family Andreas sold a condo. Another neighbor, Democratic fixer Robert Strauss, was Carter's campaign chairman. He later took a seat on ADM's board.

Contrary to federal Judge Ruben Castillo's view that the settlement is "a deterrent to any company that thinks this behavior is acceptable," the deal scuttled a broader investigation into ADM's corporate skulduggery, including the fundamental link between campaign finances and favors.

Clinton and Dole ought to turn their deserved embarrassment into an argument for meaningful campaign reform. Each could win points by removing their snouts from the spigot of special interests. The bill could be called the "ADM Ethical Awakening Act," after a company that's so dear to their hearts and near to their wallets.