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Poor Bob Dole. He can't figure out why the country isn't up in arms over the fact that Indonesian businessmen and Buddhist monks might be buying the political system right out from under working Americans.

It's not the first time he's been left scratching his head. First, his political calculator told him a 15 percent tax cut would add up to more votes. Now, he's pushed the wrong button again while trying to raise interest in the fact that an Indonesian conglomerate has given nearly a million dollars to the Democratic National Committee.

Just for good measure, Dole also is raising questions about Vice President Gore's role in a $140,000 DNC fund-raiser at a Buddhist temple. Of course, Gore had no idea money was being changed in the temple; he thought he was there for a "values" rally pushing abstinence.

But while monks being used as bagmen makes for good sound bites, it's the foreign connection that Dole really is focusing on -- and with his typical lack of success.

In fact, things have gotten so desperate that he and GOP diehards have begun hurling the worst epithet they can think of: They're accusing Democrats of acting just like Republicans.

But even comparing the Indonesian affair to Watergate hasn't had much of an impact on voters. And it's not hard to understand why: Americans intuitively know that their problems are not primarily with obscure nations whose economies are growing with the help of U.S. corporate investors.

To the contrary, Americans know their most immediate problems are with those very U.S. corporations and investors. They know their most pressing problems are with companies that look at underpaid foreign workers and see new opportunities to eradicate worker protections here or move jobs overseas -- or both.

American workers aren't stupid. They know that foreign capitalists like the Indonesian Riady family try to get U.S. officials to overlook human rights violations overseas. But they also know that it's U.S. firms that make the gambit pay off by pumping money into foreign plants to capitalize on cheap labor while executives make huge salaries for exporting U.S. jobs.

They also know that it's campaign contributions that finance the tax and trade laws that make such ventures profitable.

And while Republicans try to scare voters with labor's campaign on behalf of Democrats, new figures compiled by a non-profit research group show what many have long suspected: Business, far and away, is the biggest financier of the U.S. political system and its "free trade" middlemen in Washington.

The study by the Center for Responsive Politics -- one of the most comprehensive to date -- shows that the business sector has raised $242 million for the 1996 election cycle, with the bulk of it going to Republicans. That massive sum dwarfs the $35 million labor has raised.

The $242 million comes from both individual businesses and from political action committees representing particular industries, and it includes both direct contributions to candidates and the "soft money" to parties that often makes its way to candidates anyway.

To be sure, labor unions were well represented among the top donors. But "in terms of total dollars, business money swamped all other sources," the analysis found. Business has spent nearly seven times more than labor, and 20 times more than ideological groups like the environmental lobby, which often try to combat the excesses of the private sector.

With that size business investment in Congress and the White House, what are the odds of seeing laws like ones that would ban the permanent replacement of strikers or eliminate tax breaks for executives who move jobs overseas? Just look at how long it took to get a minimal hike in the minimum wage.

That's what money does to a political system -- and working people know that it's not foreign currency that's corrupting ours.

Dole's Indonesian strategy is failing to get a rise out of voters because they've realized that Howard Beale, the supposedly insane anchorman in "Network," was not so crazy when he ingested the notion that nations have become passe. Multinational corporations that move capital and jobs around like chess pieces are all that matter.

"There is only IBM, and ITT and AT&T, and duPont, Dow, Union Carbide and Exxon. Those are the nations of the world today," Beale's corporate boss presciently told him in 1976. Workers today know how true that is.

Dole is futilely hyping xenophobia when Americans really have corpophobia -- the fear of corporate decision-makers who use massive campaign contributions like an insurance policy to guarantee that no one in Washington is going to stop them.

Voters aren't so worried about foreign contributions because they know the country is being sold out from within.

ROD WATSON is a Buffalo News editorial writer.

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