May 09, 2007 | The multinational oil services company at the center of a political corruption scandal in Alaska’s statehouse has been a generous contributor to federal lawmakers as well, the Center for Responsive Politics has found. From 1989 through 2006, VECO, its employees and their families contributed about $1 million to current and former members of Congress from 26 states, as well as to President Bush, political parties, other committees and issue advocacy groups.
VECO has been the top Alaska-based contributor to federal politics for at least the last five election cycles, the Center found. Like most oil and gas companies, VECO is staunchly Republican; 97% of its contributions have gone to Republican interests.
The top recipients of money from the company (shown in a table below) are, not surprisingly, members of Congress representing Alaska. Rep. Don Young, a Republican who is the state’s only congressman, has taken in at least $257,320 from VECO in the last 18 years through his campaign committee and political action committee. VECO has been Young’s most generous campaign contributor over that period, according to CRP’s research.
Alaska’s senior statesman in Washington, Sen. Ted Stevens, has received at least $156,000 through his campaign and committees that he uses to support fellow Republican candidates. Stevens’s son Ben, a former president of the Alaska state Senate, has been implicated in the VECO scandal. He has not been charged and denies any wrongdoing.
Two members of another prominent Alaska political family have also benefited from VECO contributions. The state’s other U.S. senator, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, has received $45,250 from company employees, and her father, Frank, received at least $27,947 while he was in the U.S. Senate. Frank Murkowski appointed his daughter to take his Senate seat in 2002 after he was elected governor.
President Bush received about $24,000 from VECO employees for his 2000 and 2004 campaigns. In addition, the company itself contributed $25,000 toward a 2001 Republican fundraising dinner hosted by the president. The president’s father, former President George H. W. Bush, received $9,000 from VECO employees during his unsuccessful 1992 re-election campaign.
Hawaii Sen. Daniel Inouye is the only Democrat currently serving in Congress to receive money from VECO ($15,000 in the 2004 election cycle). Sen. Christopher “Kit” Bond, a Missouri Republican, is another out-of-state member of Congress who is a top recipient of money from VECO ($10,516). A number of current members have received $6,000 or less from VECO, and some beneficiaries of VECO's largesse no longer hold federal office. The company’s federal giving peaked in the 2004 cycle, when employees and their families contributed $218,600 to candidates for Congress, president and party committees.
One current member of the Alaska House of Representatives and two former Republican members were indicted last week for allegedly accepting bribes from VECO in exchange for supporting the company’s positions on oil and gas taxes and a natural gas pipeline. They have pleaded not guilty.
VECO’s chief executive, Bill Allen, and Rick Smith, a vice president who served as the Anchorage-based company’s chief lobbyist, appeared in federal court Monday to plead guilty to paying off state legislators. In all, Allen and Smith have contributed nearly $270,000 at the federal level since 1989, the Center found. In addition to making contributions in his own name, Allen acknowledged rewarding VECO executives with bonuses as repayment for campaign contributions, which is illegal. It is unclear whether the politicians who received these contributions were state or federal officeholders.
Other than Allen’s admission that he illegally rewarded employees who made contributions, no evidence has been presented publicly that VECO’s donations to particular members of Congress were illegal. But no politician wants to be even tangentially associated with a corruption scandal. Several Alaska lawmakers have already dumped contributions they received from VECO, opting to donate the money to charity to avoid its taint. Members of Congress may follow suit, as they have in other scandals involving presumably legal contributions. Recipients of campaign donations from the corrupt lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his clients returned or donated more than $700,000 after Abramoff pleaded guilty to bribing officials.
CRP Researcher Douglas Weber contributed to this report.