Stanford Donations Now Sticky For Lawmakers R. Allen Stanford, accused of bilking investors of $8 billion, surfaced in Fredericksburg, Va. — only a few miles from a city where he invested heavily in political clout. Now Washington officeholders from President Obama on down are pondering how to handle those contributions. The case is one of several bringing fresh scrutiny to the intersection of money and politics.
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Stanford Donations Now Sticky For Lawmakers

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Stanford Donations Now Sticky For Lawmakers

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Stanford Donations Now Sticky For Lawmakers

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Coming up, an argument against homeownership. But first, this week the Securities and Exchange Commission filed civil fraud charges against R. Allen Stanford of Texas and Antigua. The commission says that Mr. Stanford defrauded investors of $8 billion. He surfaced in Virginia, a few miles from a city where he invested heavily in political influence.

Now, Washington, D.C., office-holders from President Obama on down are pondering how to handle those contributions. NPR's Peter Overby reports.

PETER OVERBY: President Obama's campaign got $31,750 from Allen Stanford and others at the Stanford Financial Group. Without fanfare yesterday, the White House let it be known that $4,600 - the amount from Allen Stanford himself - is going to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.

Also shedding Stanford dollars are two Texas Republicans. Congressman Pete Sessions and Senator John Cornyn are giving charities amounts equal to what they got from Allen Stanford himself. Sessions got $41,375 in all from donors at Stanford Financial. Cornyn got 19,700. He and his wife also traveled to Antigua in 2004, a trip that Stanford Financial paid for.

He's by no means the only lawmaker to travel to the Caribbean on Stanford's dime. Cornyn's office says it was a fact-finding trip, looking at the business operations of a constituent whose empire included two big offices in Houston. Critics say it looks a lot like a vacation with a high-flying financier who was knighted by Antigua, and who plowed millions of dollars into cricket teams and tennis matches.

Sheila Krumholz is director of the Center for Responsive Politics, which tallied up Stanford's campaign contributions. She says Allen Stanford was pushing all the right buttons in Washington.

Ms. SHEILA KRUMHOLZ (Director, Center for Responsive Politics): He was a significant donor, giving 2.4 million between him and his employees and his PAC since 2000. Most of that money - 65 percent - went to Democrats.

OVERBY: Only one lawmaker so far is getting rid of all the money he got from Stanford Financial. Democratic Senator Bill Nelson of Florida received $45,900 over the years, more than anyone else in D.C. His office says he's giving that amount either to charity or to Stanford Financial's court-appointed receiver.

Krumholz points out that with Allen Stanford, as with alleged Ponzi artist Bernard Madoff in New York, the SEC stands accused of failing to follow leads over several years. At the same time, Stanford and his associates were lobbying Congress and writing checks to lawmakers in both parties.

Ms. KRUMHOLZ: And so the question is, did this money contribute to lax enforcement? Did anyone intervene for contributions that were received?

OVERBY: An SEC spokesman said yesterday that the congressional correspondence file since 2005 had no letters from Capitol Hill pertaining to Stanford Financial. He noted that the search didn't rule out other possible contacts. So yet another Washington money chase comes to a bad end.

Meanwhile, House Democrats are busy climbing from the wreckage of the PMA Group, a lobby firm that flooded them with contributions while enlisting them to legislate spending earmarks that cost taxpayers millions of dollars. The FBI raided the firm in November.

And yesterday, prosecutors charged another defendant in the long-running case involving Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Ann Copland, who worked for Senator Thad Cochran of Mississippi, was charged with taking gifts for two years while allegedly trying to influence decisions affecting one of Abramoff's clients.

Political scientist Norman Ornstein at the American Enterprise Institute says public scrutiny of Washington ethics will only intensify.

Mr. NORMAN ORNSTEIN (Political Scientist, American Enterprise Institute): When times are tough, we're going to take a more careful look at people who have either helped to make times tough, or who are making decisions that affect our lives. We want ethics, we want transparency, we want some sense that people are not living by a different set of standards than the rest of us.

OVERBY: That is to say, for lawmakers, different standards than for the people who elected them.

Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.

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