All in the Family: Fathers, Daughters and Political Investigations

Nov 3, 2006 12:26pm

The daughters of several powerful congressmen have been drawn into investigations of their fathers’ political and business dealings. As lobbyists, consultants or political action committee directors, the daughters’ fortunes appear closely tied to their fathers’ political connections, and now they are also coming under scrutiny. Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.) has two daughters whose careers have intersected with contacts in his political orbit. A lobbying firm run by Karen Weldon, 31, has won more than $1 million in contracts from at least three foreign clients who also turned to her father for political assistance. Her home and office were searched by the FBI in October as part of an investigation into whether Rep. Weldon used his influence to steer business to the firm.    THE BLOTTER RECOMMENDS Following the Bouncing Bribe Scandal: Keeping Tabs on the Abramoff Lobbying Investigation World News $25K for Lobster With Dems, $15K for GOP Round of Golf Click Here to Check Out More of the Brian Ross Page In an interview two years before the FBI raid, Karen Weldon said she won clients because "I worked my butt off," not because of her father’s influence. "Because of who he is, people have questioned me all my life about whether I’m qualified and if I can do the job," she told the Los Angeles Times. "I have nothing to hide. I haven’t done anything inappropriate." Weldon’s younger daughter Kim, 29, got a job last year doing PR for AgustaWestland, a company that had recently won a major Pentagon contract with the support of Rep. Weldon and other members of the House Armed Services Committee. The company said the timing was a coincidence and that Kim Weldon did not receive any preference in hiring. She reportedly signed an agreement not to lobby her father or other officials. Rep. Weldon has denied that his daughters got any special consideration, saying, "My kids are qualified on their own." But Melanie Sloan, executive director of the nonpartisan group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, tells ABC News that "being Weldon’s daughters" was the only qualification that really mattered. "A lobbyist with no lobbying experience opens her door to a million dollars in business from companies with business before her father? These explanations defy logic." The daughter of former House Majority Leader Tom Delay (R-Texas), Dani DeLay Ferro, runs a consulting firm in Texas that has made hundreds of thousands of dollars working for DeLay’s campaigns and political action committees. Her firm’s records have been subpoenaed as part of the investigation into one of DeLay’s PACs, Texans for a Republican Majority, which allegedly funneled corporate money illegally into state campaigns. Ferro herself has not been implicated in the case. DeLay’s wife Christine also got paid for campaign work, and after The New York Times ran an article last April detailing the payments, an outraged DeLay went on CNN to defend the practice, saying, "My wife and daughter have a right, just like any other American, to be employed and be compensated for their employment." The stepdaughter of House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.), Julia Willis-Leon, runs a PAC called Small Biz Tech that advocates for small technology companies and defense contractors and is funded by companies that also have business before Rep. Lewis’s committee. According to the independent watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense, seven of those companies have received earmarks for government projects totaling at least $36.3 million. The PAC’s biggest contributors run a lobbying firm, Copeland Lowery, whose relationship with Rep. Lewis is being investigated by a federal grand jury. There is no evidence the PAC contributions influenced decisions made by the House Appropriations Committee, and no one has been charged with any wrongdoing. Willis-Leon told reporters, "Everything has been disclosed; there’s nothing to hide." But Sloan says while it might be legal, "it’s completely unethical. Members are not supposed to be using their positions to enrich their family." A spokesperson for Rep. Lewis had no comment on the investigation to ABC News. So far this year, documents show he has spent more than $800,000 in campaign money on legal fees. Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) has two daughters whose names have come up in an investigation into their father’s alleged influence peddling. Rep. Jefferson is accused of pressuring a high-tech company called iGate to put several of his family members on the payroll, and the law firm that employed his daughter Jamila Jefferson reportedly did legal work on the deal. iGate’s CEO — a former Jefferson aide who later pleaded guilty to paying bribes — contributed to the campaign of another Jefferson daughter, Jalila Jefferson-Bullock, a state representative in Louisiana. The FBI has been looking into Rep. Jefferson’s business dealings for a year and a half and famously discovered $90,000 in cash stashed in the freezer of his Washington, D.C., home, as detailed in an FBI affidavit in the bribery probe of the congressman. Rep. Jefferson would not comment on the ongoing investigation to ABC News, but he has previously denied any wrongdoing. He is up for re-election on Tuesday.

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