News and articles relating to the scandal surrounding Washington D.C. lobbyist Jack Abramoff

Friday, October 21, 2005

House Democratic Leader Seeks Investigation Over a Contract - New York Times

WASHINGTON, Oct. 20 - After reports that an Ohio Republican had granted favors to a lobbyist, the House minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, is requesting an investigation into accusations that a wireless communications company was improperly given a contract to provide services to the House.

An account this week by The Washington Post suggested that Representative Bob Ney of Ohio, chairman of the House Administration Committee, had given preferential treatment to Foxcom, a wireless company with connections to Jack Abramoff, a lobbyist who is under criminal investigation.

"These are serious charges," Ms. Pelosi, Democrat of California, wrote in a letter to House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois. She requested that the House inspector general look into the matter.

But Mr. Ney, who took control of the committee in 2001, has said that he had a little role in the project, which relied heavily on the opinions of outside communications companies.

No taxpayer money was used for the new wiring and antenna installation project, which was managed and paid for by telecommunications companies that service the House, so it did not require the usual bidding process.

Documents show that aides to the ranking Democrat on the committee, Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, met with Foxcom on the project, but aides to Mr. Hoyer said he had nothing to do with arranging the deal.

"Extensive internal documentation on this project has been available to any member of Congress who wished to review it," said Brian Walsh, a spokesman for Mr. Ney. "Surprisingly, Ms. Pelosi chose not to do so before launching this partisan attack."

Pelosi Calls for Investigation into Ney Dealings with Wireless Firm

By Josephine Hearn

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) yesterday called for an investigation into how the House Administration Committee, led by Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio), decided to award a lucrative 2002 licensing agreement to a company with ties to Jack Abramoff, a lobbyist who is now the subject of multiple criminal probes.

Writing yesterday to House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), Pelosi sought the Speaker's backing in a request to the acting inspector general of the House to review how the company, Foxcom Wireless, obtained the agreement, which allowed it to install equipment to improve cell phone reception in the Capitol and adjacent House office buildings.

"I am writing to ask that we join together in a bipartisan request to the Acting Inspector General of the House to conduct an immediate and thorough inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the selection by the House of Representatives of Foxcom Wireless," Pelosi wrote.

She referenced a recent report in The Washington Post that suggested that Ney's office rigged the informal bidding process to favor Foxcom.

"These are serious charges affecting the very operations of the House of Representatives," she wrote.

Ney has come under scrutiny this year for his various dealings with Abramoff. Although public disclosure reports do not show that Abramoff lobbied for Foxcom at the time of the wireless agreement, the company did reportedly make a $50,000 contribution in 2001 to a non-profit group controlled by Abramoff. In 2003, the company hired him to lobby.

A letter released yesterday by Ney's office suggested that an investigation of the agreement could touch on House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), whose office brokered an early meeting for the company with committee staff.

In late 2000, before Foxcom had any apparent ties to Abramoff, its prospects for securing the licensing agreement seemed dim. On Nov. 6, 2000, Foxcom executives wrote to the Administration Committee's then chairman Rep. Bill Thomas (R-Calif.), complaining that a competing company from California was getting preferential treatment by the committee's staff.

"We have been subjected to a number of unfair actions by committee staff in our attempt to develop and present our proposal," wrote Cathy Zatloukal, Foxcom's president, and Tom Hinton, its chief executive officer. "For example, our competitor, LGC Wireless, has had access to House facilities and plans for almost a year…Foxcom, on the other hand, had to wait almost six weeks before one of the committee's staff members, Joel Hinzman, agreed that we could have access to floor plans."

The Foxcom executives went on to describe Hinzman's alleged failure to return phone calls and attempts to thwart their contact with administrative offices within the Capitol.

In the midst of these difficulties, a member of Hoyer's personal staff stepped in to arrange a meeting between Foxcom executives and the committee's Democratic staff director, the late Bob Bean.

"On Wednesday, October 11, 2000, after five weeks of no progress with Mr. Hinzman…we attended a meeting with the committee's minority staff director, Bob Bean, which was arranged by Cory Alexander of Rep. Hoyer's office," read a timeline of events that accompanied the Foxcom letter.

Hinzman also attended the meeting.

"At this meeting, Mr. Hinzman agreed that there is no legitimate reason why Foxcom Wireless should not be given fair and equal access to the information and support required to compete fairly and effectively," the timeline continued.

Yet after the meeting, Foxcom was still experiencing many of the same difficulties with the committee's staff that it had had before, the timeline said, indicating that the intervention of Hoyer's staff had not significantly brightened Foxcom's prospects.
It was not until Ney became chairman of the panel in 2001 that it gained the upper hand in negotiations.

A spokeswoman for Hoyer, Stacey Bernards, said he had nothing to do with the committee's decision two years later to award the licensing agreement to Foxcom.

"As the ranking member on House Administration, Mr. Hoyer's staff had limited involvement in this licensing and he was not involved nor was the staff involved in making decisions related to awarding the license," Bernards said.

Bernards could not comment on whether Hoyer would support Pelosi's investigation request as he was not immediately reachable last night.

A spokesman for Ney suggested that Pelosi had been unwise in calling for an investigation into a matter that would involve Hoyer, a fellow member of Democratic leadership.

"Extensive internal documentation on this project has been available to any member who wished to see it," said the spokesman, Brian Walsh. "It is surprising that Ms. Pelosi chose not to do so before launching this attack. She might want to reconsider that decision and review our documents."

But Jennifer Crider, a spokeswoman for Pelosi, said Republicans were simply seeking to deflect attention from themselves.

"Pelosi asked for an inspector general investigation based on The Washington Post story showing a relationship between Jack Abramoff, Congressman Ney and a contract that was awarded. There is no evidence, despite Republican intents to distract from their culture of corruption, that Mr. Hoyer did anything wrong."

In her letter to Hastert, Pelosi asked for an inspector general investigation, rather that referring the matter to the ethics committee, as is customary. She noted that the ethics committee had yet to resolve a dispute over staffing that has dragged on for several months.

"Given the seriousness of the allegations against Mr. Ney, I do not believe it appropriate to defer action. Until the Ethics Committee initiates an inquiry, the Office of Inspector General is the appropriate investigative authority," Pelosi wrote.

Foxcom has claimed that its political connections had nothing to do with its success in getting the licensing agreement


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