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DERRICK Z. JACKSON

Candidates squawk, but money talks

IT WILL BE a curious thing to see which Democratic candidate for governor puts the most distance between himself and his money. The subject came up again as hardline critics targeted Deval ``Killer Coke" Patrick, the former legal counsel of a company accused of human rights and environmental abuses in developing countries.

Patrick's latest defense to the Globe was, ``I am a person who believes that economic expansion and social justice go hand in hand . . . people have to figure whether they want to call me a liberal looney or a corporate devil . . . I expected all along there would be attempts to exaggerate the bad and diminish the good."

I understand what Patrick is trying to say, though I would not utter economic expansion and social justice in the same sentence when discussing Coke, a company deeply involved in the exaggerated expansion of the American waistline. When I covered President Bush's speech at the NAACP convention last month, it was striking how Coke was a convention sponsor when the hallway was full of hefty evidence that 45 percent of African-American adults are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control. That compares with 32 percent of the nation at large (pun intended).

We will know that Patrick is serious about healthcare when he says Coke and Pepsi should be pulled out of every school system in the country and he uses his resume as President Clinton's top civil rights attorney to urge civil rights organizations to stop taking money from companies that could care less about whether we drink ourselves into diabetes and early graves.

But Patrick is not likely to bite the hand that paid him millions of dollars. His competitors likewise have their hands in the till of compromise and irony.

Attorney General Thomas Reilly is being exposed for having a big mouth and dull teeth on the collapsing Big Dig. He has yet to make a big contractor cringe over incompetence and fraud. He has taken $35,000 in campaign contributions from Big Dig-related executives, lawyers, and lobbyists. Despite the project's problems, which now have reached fatal proportions, the Globe reported in March that he had recouped only $5,000 of the money. We will know Reilly is serious when he gets the likes of Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff to return serious money to the taxpayers.

Chris Gabrieli made his fortune investing in medical software, biotech, and pharmaceuticals. He makes a big deal about supporting after-school programs. But the pharmaceutical industry is known for helping people only after charging outrageous sums for its drugs -- so much so that elders in northerly states flee to Canada for prescription alternatives. On his website, Gabrieli complains about the ``out-of-control cost of health care," and claims he will make big companies pay their fair share. We willknow Gabrieli is serious about helping people when he tells pharmaceuticals to stop jacking up costs for 80-year-old great-grandmothers.

This brings us to the most classic irony binding all three of the Democratic contenders. Republican contender Kerry Healey ought to be a sitting duck for the Democrats, with $9 million in homes. No one mistakes her for having the common touch.

But the Democrats swim in a sea of Republican money. Patrick's former employer Coca-Cola talks diversity when it comes to addicting the masses to its sugar. But in the 2004 elections, the parent company gave 63 percent of its $311,500 in campaign contributions to Republican causes. Its distribution wing of Coca-Cola Enterprises gave 75 percent of its $255,000 to Republican causes.

Gabrieli's pharmaceutical manufacturing industry is so Republican that, in the 2004 elections, 18 of the 20 top companies gave at least 60 percent of their contributions to Republican causes, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Of the nearly $10 million in contributions, $7 million went to Republicans.

Reilly's struggle to extract anything of substance from the Big Dig contractors looks even more strange when Bechtel's percentage of contributions to Republicans currently stands at 72 percent. Parsons Brinckerhoff is the closest company to being neutral, with 51 percent of its contributions going to Republicans in 2004 and 56 percent in the current cycle.

This does not make the Democratic candidates corporate devils. But none has yet to play the devil's advocate to the corporate manipulation of the masses. It is looney liberalism to nickname Patrick as ``Killer Coke." But we still await the Democrat who can knock 'em dead.

Derrick Z. Jackson's e-mail is jackson@globe.com.

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