For any export-oriented American business, an invitation to join the U.S. Commerce Secretary on one of his trade missions abroad is like a World Series ticket--the hottest seat in town, and something you just might pay top dollar to get. In 1992 Bill Clinton promised that his Administration would fight hard to help American companies win foreign business. That's a worthy goal of trade missions, which provide selected CEOs with priceless connections to the corporate heads and government officials of other nations.

But under the late Commerce Secretary Ron Brown were the Democrats "selling" seats, using those missions to reward party...

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