Foreign Intrigue In Jesseland

JESSE HELMS (R-N.C.), THE incoming Senate Foreign Relations Committee chief, is an ardent foe of foreign aid. But not when it benefits his state.

He is urging the main U.S. foreign-aid agency to keep on writing checks for the next fiscal year--about $20 million yearly--to North Carolina State University agricultural research programs in soil management and peanuts. BUSINESS WEEK has obtained a copy of an Oct. 31 Helms letter to Brian Atwood, head of the Agency for International Development, that praises the AID-funded programs for benefiting countries "such as Rwanda and Haiti, who desperately need our help."

That's very odd, since Helms, an archconservative known for strident views, has called for the dismantling of AID. Too bad: Overall, North Carolina receives about $400 million annually in AID contracts for goods and services, making it one of the highest state beneficiaries of this federal largesse. Recently, Helms likened foreign aid to pouring money down a "rat hole." He has opposed aid to Haiti and Rwanda except for humanitarian purposes. A Helms aide questions whether the senator actually saw the letter.