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[GreenYes] Free Trade and Campaign Finance
    It is said that life is strange and, of course, we all know that politics is weird.  But, an article buried on the back page of the Wall Street Journal ("Canada's Methanex Alleges Contributions Swayed California MTBE Gasoline Ban," 3/8/01) blew my mind.

    For months, many otherwise supporters of free trade have been dismayed how this noble concept has been mauled and distorted by multinational corporations who have twisted the WTO into a vehicle to undermine national environmental and worker safety rules that were never intended as a subterfuge for restricting trade.

    This article, though, points out an very intriguing twist on this ball of wax that I never would have anticipated.  A Canadian firm, Methanex Corp., that manufacturers methanol used in the U.S.'s major smog fighting ingredient in gasoline, MTBE, claims that Archer-Daniels-Midland effectively bribed California Governor, Gray Davis, to ban MTBE in the state's gasoline through political campaign contributions and favors. Banning MTBE, and reducing imports of Methanex's methanol, had been justified by California out of environmental concerns over impacts on groundwater, but the Canadian firm charges it was just a political fix. Here's the fascinating sentence:

    "While such political contributions [to Gov. Davis totaling $200,000, plus a junket to Chicago] are routine in the U.S., Methanex alleges that in this case international trade laws under Nafta were violated because a domestic industry was put in a position to benefit. It is rare for a company to sue the government under international-trade rules, but Nafta, unlike the World Trade Organization, does have an investment provision that allows this. 'What we are seeking as a company is a level playing field,' said Methanex spokesman Michael Macdonald.'"

    We should watch the denouement of this challenge. If it were to succeed, it would hold fascinating opportunities for applications that might effectively shoe horn campaign finance in the U.S. through the free trade door that otherwise cannot get passed due to the power of money in our political process. Or at least cause some squirming before the free trade provisions at issue are sought to be amended to keep the grease flowing in the U.S. If that is what follows, those concerned with the integrity of bona fide local environmental rules should demand similar dispensation.


Peter Anderson
4513 Vernon Blvd. Suite 15
Madison, WI 53705
(608) 231-1100/Fax (608) 233-0011

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