WASHINGTON -- The debates between George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore are being underwritten by contributions from several companies with major business pending before the government.
For their largesse to the Commission on Presidential Debates, companies like US Airways, Anheuser-Busch and 3Com will get a tax deduction, tickets to the debates and invites to a private reception before the first debate.
"It brings us good visibility with one of the nation's most important elections and it's good citizenship in the local community," said David Castelveter, a spokesman for US Airways.
Neither the commission nor the companies would divulge the exact size of the donations.
Some involve donated services for the commission Web site or for travel to the debates.
For instance, AT&T is handling for free the Internet traffic for the commission's Web site; Anheuser-Busch is providing food, beverages and literature about their corporate-responsibility programs such as preserving the environment and fighting alcohol abuse; and 3Com is the best-known of several high-tech companies helping to run the site, which includes online surveys and forums.
US Airways is offering cut-rate fares for campaigns, news media and members of the public who travel to and from the debate sites.
It and the other sponsors will also get their names prominently mentioned in the literature for nationally televised events that will help determine the next president.
The companies who donated services for the commission Web site also get their logos prominently displayed on the site, and all the companies get links to their own corporate Web pages.
The commission said soliciting corporate donations was necessary because the debates, unlike the campaigns, get no taxpayer funding.
"We are a private, nonprofit entity," said Frank Fahrenkopf, the former Republican National Committee chairman who heads the commission with former Democratic National Committee Chairman Paul Kirk. "We get no funding from the federal government. We get no funding from the political parties. We have to raise our money ourselves."
For the donors, the benefits are worth far more than the amount they contribute, said Charles Lewis, executive director of the Center for Public Integrity.
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