September 21, 2007

Another Kind Of Tap Lesson For The Senate

Earlier this month, we discovered all we needed to know about wide stances and tap dances from Republican Senator Larry Craig, and the GOP got wind burns in their race to throw him under the bus. Now we have a different kind of tap haunting another Republican Senator, and this one relates much more closely to the people's business than a flirtation in a Minneapolis airport salle de bain. Ted Stevens found out that the FBI has tapped his conversations with an Alaskan oil executive already in hot water in another corruption case:

The FBI, working with an Alaska oil contractor, secretly taped telephone calls with Sen. Ted Stevens as part of a public corruption sting, according to people close to the investigation.

The secret recordings suggest the Justice Department was eyeing Stevens long before June, when the Republican senator first publicly acknowledged he was under scrutiny. At that time, it appeared Stevens was a new focus in a case that had already ensnared several state lawmakers.

The recorded calls between Stevens and businessman Bill Allen were confirmed by two people close to the case who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is still under way. They declined to say how many calls were recorded or what was said.

Allen, a wealthy businessman and Stevens' political patron, agreed to the taping last year after authorities confronted him with evidence he had bribed Alaska lawmakers. He pleaded guilty to bribery and is a key witness against Alaska legislators. He also has told prosecutors he paid his employees to renovate the senator's house.

First, let's note that Craig pled guilty to disorderly conduct, even though he's made a raft of excuses since then and has asked to have his plea vacated. Stevens has pled guilty to nothing, has been convicted with nothing, and hasn't even been charged -- yet. If Allen gets his way, at least one of those conditions may change quickly.

Allen's not the only one talking, and indeed, investigators have not completely relied on informants in this probe. Another VECO employee told the FBI that the oil company helped run campaign fundraisers for Stevens without declaring the effort as in-kind contributions. The FBI has secretly videotaped Alaskan politicians meeting with contractors, as well as taping calls from other VECO executives.

The one intriguing element from this probe is that VECO didn't get a lot for its money. A look at the contracts database at (an indispensable resource) shows that VECO didn't get more than $18 million for contracts in any annual federal budget -- and that the vast majority of those contracts came in fully competitive bid arrangements. In FY 2006, for example, VECO received 96.4% of its contract revenue from the most competitive bid type. Only in 2005 did it drop below 96%, when it hit 84% for that year.

If VECO didn't get non-bid contracts, then what did Stevens do for them? The pork king of the North has famously distributed earmarks throughout the state, but not apparently to VECO. Allen and VECO certainly had the ear of a Senator who could help improve business conditions for oil interests in Alaska, but it doesn't look like Stevens arranged any kind of sweetheart deals for VECO using his normal modus operandi.

We will have to wait to see what the FBI determines. They've certainly forced Stevens to be thinking about taps more than Larry Craig, but I doubt that Stevens will shuffle off stage as rapidly as Craig will after this month.


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Comments (7)

Posted by The Mechanical Eye | September 21, 2007 2:23 AM

Sen. Stevens' continuing behavior is especially shameful considering how Sen. Craig's colleagues were all but pushing each each other out of the way to demand Craig's resignation.

It seems that amorous behavior in the men's bathroom is a threat to senatorial integrity, but hey, what's some financial conflict of interest and potential bribery between friends?


Posted by Bullwinkle | September 21, 2007 2:54 AM

If Stevens was reporting other companies' bids to VECO it changes the whole ball game. I've seen that happen many times in supposedly competitive bidding.

Posted by just me | September 21, 2007 5:47 AM

Seems like corruption is the name of the game in Alaska politics at the moment.

The best thing Stevens can do is step aside.

Posted by capitano | September 21, 2007 6:02 AM

but I doubt that Stevens will shuffle off stage as rapidly as Craig will after this month.

It's unfortunate, he didn't follow through with his threat to resign when he didn't get his Bridge to Nowhere earmark.

Posted by docjim505 | September 21, 2007 6:11 AM

I've said it before and I'll say it again:

No mercy for corrupt public officials.

If Stevens is found guilty (after a fair trial and all the due process and protections accorded to any citizen under our magnificent Constitution, naturally) of abusing the power of his office, then I personally would like to see him imprisoned for life if not executed. Draconian? Perhaps, but I'm tired of these elected-for-life wardheelers treating the treasury like a personal slush fund and otherwise flaunting their responsibilities as public servants. Sending a few crooks to the pen or the gallows would send a message to the rest: shape up and serve the public trust (like what we elect you for)... or else.

Posted by Yatalli | September 21, 2007 8:13 AM

The VECO story has dominated our local news and talk radio for several weeks. VECO is no longer. It is now CH2M Hill. For the record, VECO/Hill is not an oil company. They are services and engineering. Uncle Ted is the most visible politician but the cloud is following several state legislators with trials in progress. Depending on what day and who is presenting the spin. Stevens maintains that he paid all of the bills that were presented to him by VECO/ Bill Allen. Apparently Mr. Allen says otherwise or maybe he spiked or forgot about some of the invoices. Only time will tell. Senator Stevens son also had a sweet heart deal with VECO. It is a very small state. Natural Resources -and predominately oil- drives our economy and the lines between business, politics and friendship are are broad and the corruption line fine indeed. I'll wait it out before I'll pass judgement on his relationship with VECO.

Neither Stevens nor Murkowski is gaining any points with me for their seemingly apparent support of the DREAM legislation. For that reason alone I will not support their re-elections.

Posted by Tom Foolery | September 21, 2007 2:47 PM

What did VECO get is not the right question. The question is what did VECO plan to get? And the answer is ANWR.

They were obviously angling, with the help of the oil industry, for big ANWR contracts and big North Slope contracts. The only problem is that they were busted before the quid pro quo happened.

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