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02/23/98- Updated 07:23 PM ET

Group: Campaign donations hurt public

WASHINGTON - Big campaign contributors are able to push through legislation that costs American consumers billions of dollars, according to a leading supporter of changing the way congressional campaigns are financed.

Common Cause released its findings Monday as the Senate began debating campaign finance legislation. The group said the report provided another argument for reform.

A case in point: Common Cause said consumers could save $59 billion if fuel economy standards were tightened, lowering gasoline costs, but Congress has refused. The automotive and steel industries contributed $5.7 million to campaigns between Jan. 1, 1991, and June 30, 1997.

Mike Stanton, federal liaison director of the American Automobile Manufacturers Association, the trade group of the big three American automakers, said the public doesn't want to buy small, high-mileage cars.

''We make cars that get in excess of 40 miles per gallon but they make up less than 1% of sales,'' Stanton said. ''Fuel economy is not on anyone's radar screen when they go to buy a car. People care more about cup holders.''

Common Cause also said the costs of cable television and pay phone calls have risen since the communications industry was deregulated in 1996. Cable and phone companies gave $24 million to members of Congress between Jan. 1, 1991, and June 30, 1997.

BellSouth spokesman Bill McCloskey said consumers eventually will benefit if the Federal Communications Commission allows full competition.

''If the FCC ever properly implements the law, it will mean more competition, which will lead to better prices and more innovation,'' McCloskey said.

By The Associated Press

Copyright 1998 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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