UPDATE: Dems Cut Ties With Telephone Fund-Raising Firm

The Democratic Party abruptly ended its relationship Wednesday with a telephone fund-raising firm after learning that the company founder continued to work there even after his conviction in the Teamsters union scandal.

Records show the company, The Share Group Inc., was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by the Democratic National Committee and Vice President Gore’s election campaign in 1999 and 2000.

The action, on the third day of the Democratic convention, was taken after ABCNEWS told the party that founder Michael Ansara continued to work at the company as a contract employee and that his wife still owns half the company.

“We have verified the information that he is a contract employee and based on that information we plan to terminate any future business with Share Group,” DNC spokesman Jenny Backus said.

Democratic Party officials said they had ascertained before they hired the firm in late 1997 that Ansara wasn’t involved in the day-to-day operations.

Pleaded Guilty to Conspiracy

At the same time, correspondence shows they were informed that Ansara still owned more than half the firm and had pleaded guilty to conspiring with other Teamsters to misuse union dues for the union’s 1996 election.

“While Michael Ansara no longer has any operational control of Share Group, he continues to own approximately 56 percent of the company,” the company wrote the DNC in fall 1997.

A few months later, Ansara shifted the stock to his wife, who remains on the company board. The company said Ansara was removed as chief executive in 1997 but has been hired back as a contract employee.

“I think his decisions and his actions were regrettable and he has asked for our forgiveness a multitude of times,” Share Group’s current president, Dennis McCarthy, said in an interview Wednesday.

“We value Michael’s guidance and insight. He is a damn hard worker,” McCarthy said, adding Ansara does not work on any of the Democratic or Gore business.

Democratic Party officials said they’ve used Share Group since late 1997 to make telephone solicitations from potential donors. Gore’s campaign hired the company for similar work beginning in 1999 for his primary campaign.

FEC records show the Democratic National Committee has paid Share Group $512,555 in the 2000 election cycle, while Gore’s committee paid the firm $154,234.

DNC Stunned

Backus said the DNC had relied on the assurance of the company in the 1997 and were surprised to learn of Ansara’s current role.

Gore’s campaign said it didn’t know about Ansara’s role. “We relied on the DNC’s assurance that Ansara was no longer involved with the company,” Gore spokesman Doug Hattaway said.

Hattaway said Gore last used Share Group in late 1999. Records show the vice president’s campaign’s last payment to the company came May 30 of this year.

Ansara’s attorney, William Codinha, was out of town and unavailable for comment, his office said Wednesday.

Share Group was never accused of any criminal wrongdoing in the Justice Department investigation into an alleged scheme to swap union money for donations during the Teamster election between Ron Carey and James Hoffa Jr. in 1996.

The federal election officer who oversaw the scandal-marred election in 1996 recommended the company nonetheless be fined and prohibited from doing business with the Teamsters for six years.

“Mr. Ansara individually and his companies, Share Group and Share Consulting, are hereby barred from any further participation of any kind” with Teamsters, federal election officer Barbara Zack Quindel ruled in 1997.

Share Group appealed the ruling, and it was reversed by a judge a few weeks later. “The decision implicating the Share Group in the campaign funding irregularities is reversed,” the judge wrote.

Confession Key to Case

Federal prosecutors’ criminal case involving Teamsters was made when Ansara confessed to the FBI about his role in the donation swap. He has since cooperated and his testimony was key to the jury conviction prosecutors secured in 1999 against former Teamsters political director William Hamilton.

Ansara awaits sentencing after pleading guilty in September 1997 to one count of conspiracy to embezzle union funds and circumvent the federal rules governing union elections. He faces a maximum of five years in prison and $250,000 in fines.

Ansara acknowledged he created a shell company that allowed Teamsters officials to funnel union funds through political groups to assist Carey’s re-election bid. Prosecutors argued the scheme allowed union dues to be illegally used to support a union candidate.

The federal investigation into alleged union corruption continues. ABCNEWS reported Tuesday the Justice Department is currently investigating Richard Trumka, the No. 2 official in the AFL-CIO.

Trumka, who spoke to the Democratic convention on Tuesday, said he did not believe there was an ongoing investigation.