Monday, April 19, 2004

Cintas blast required leap of reasoning


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The press release came with a cute headline ("Bush's Money Laundry-ing") and charges - in bold face type - that a local fat cat bought looser government regulations via campaign donations to President Bush.

"Six weeks after Cintas Corp. Chairman Richard T. Farmer co-hosted a $1.7 million fund-raiser for George W. Bush in Cincinnati, Bush's Environmental Protection Agency proposed exempting industrial laundries like Cintas from rules that protect workers from handling poisonous materials," read the March 14 release from Boston-based Campaign Money Watch.

One problem: There's no evidence of any connection.

The EPA rule, which is 32 small-type pages in the Federal Register, has been in the works for 20 years. (Yes, a rule on how to treat "solvent-contaminated industrial wipes" can occupy government bureaucrats for years. But that's another story.)

A look at the EPA docket - a history of how the rule came about - shows virtually no Cintas involvement. Representatives of other companies, especially Kimberly-Clark, sent letters and attended meetings, according to EPA files. But Cintas had no major role, except through the trade association it belongs to.

The towels in the regulations are a tiny part of Cintas' laundry business, maybe 5 percent, spokesman Wade Gates said. And the rule itself won't change anything; it codifies what already are state-level regulations.

"This specific rule, it really has no effect on us," Gates said.

EPA spokeswoman Cathy Milbourn said the proposed rule will affect about 115,000 facilities across the country, 96 percent of which are small businesses.

Farmer is a longtime supporter of Republicans, including President Bush. But it's hard to imagine him whispering to President Bush about "conditional exclusions from hazardous waste" or "solvent-contaminated industrial wipes." (Gates said they never talked about it.)

David Donnelly, director of Campaign Money Watch, said appearance was the problem, even if the EPA didn't cave in to donor pressure.

"In money in politics, there's the actual corruption and there's the appearance of corruption. Both are very damaging to the political process," he said. "I'm not saying it's Farmer's fund raising alone that did this. I'm suggesting the appearance is very damaging to public trust."

Course work

With Congress on spring break - sorry, district work period - Rep. John Boehner's education committee had a "field hearing" April 8 in Augusta, Ga.

Hmmm, Augusta. And the chairman is noted for leaving no golf course behind.

Well, as it turns out, Boehner was not going to be golfing at Augusta National, home of the Masters Tournament.

"That's just a coincidence," said Boehner spokesman Steve Forde of the hearing at a golf mecca.

No, in fact, the Republican from West Chester had a golf tournament fund-raiser Tuesday at a different golf course, in Ponte Vedra, Fla.

They said it

"Mitch McConnell is the Republican whip of the Senate and he's accusing us of being too partisan? He can go to hell for all I'm concerned." --Former Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey, member of the Sept. 11 commission, quoted in the New York Times.

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E-mail cweiser@gannett.com or call (202) 906-8134.




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