Bill Allen: A tale of tainted funds

TEXT OF STORY

Doug Krizner: Yesterday, our reporter Steve Henn told us the story of Bill Allen. The Alaskan businessman pleaded guilty this year to illegally funneling corporate money into federal political campaigns and bribing state legislators.

Today, Steve reports that before his guilty pleas, Allen and Alaska's powerful Senator Ted Stevens formed a political partnership to try to influence elections across the country.


Steve Henn: Bill Allen was a big bundler for the Republican Party. His money reached dozens of candidates.

This spring, Allen pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges and admitted to illegally funneling corporate contributions into federal campaigns.

Meredith McGehee: When you go and shake the money tree as hard as these candidates are shaking it, you're gonna have some bad apples fall down as well.

Meredith McGehee is at the Campaign Legal Center.

For years, Allen focused his donations on Senate appropriators. And his company, called VECO, benefited from hundreds of millions of dollars in federal contracts.

McGehee: Any average American just would shake their head and say, "Oh, that's the way they do things in Washington."

But in the summer of 2002, Allen began to branch out. Within a few months, about $70,000 from Alaskan donors poured into the campaigns of seven Republican Senate challengers. Most came directly from VECO executives.

These gifts closely mirrored cash gifts from Senator Stevens' leadership PAC.

Ken Boehm is chairman of the Conservative National Legal and Policy Center:

Ken Boehm: The closer you look, you really see a small circle of very powerful elected officials, surrounded by a small circle of political givers who appear to have very heavy legislative interests.

Two of those givers, including Bill Allen, pleaded guilty this year to making illegal donations. Two others fit the descriptions of unnamed co-conspirators in Allen's own guilty plea.

The Senate campaign funds of Norm Coleman of Minnesota and John Sununu of New Hampshire both got bundles from these donors totaling about $10,000 each.

Meredith McGehee:

McGehee: You have to make clear there is not at this point any legal requirement that any of these donations be returned. There is a perception issue definitely at play here that when you take tainted money, you are in fact then tainted by it.

Working in concert, Ted Stevens, Bill Allen and VECO executives used half a dozen political committees to raise about $25,000 for Coleman's 2002 campaign, and $50,000 for Sununu's. Both Coleman and Sununu are running for reelection this year.

Sununu announced last week he'd donate $2,000 received from convicted VECO employees to charity. Coleman's campaign staff say the money's been spent, and the account is closed.

In Washington, I'm Steve Henn for Marketplace.

About the author

Steve Henn was Marketplace’s technology and innovation reporter for the entire portfolio of Marketplace programs until December 2011.

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