Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Weldon hearts Finmeccanica

NYT:
Italian Arms Contractor and a Pennsylvania Congressman Share Close Ties

At the gathering of Italian, British and American political leaders, Mr. Weldon, of Pennsylvania, spoke on behalf of Italian arms makers who were seeking a bigger share of Pentagon contracts.
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For Mr. Weldon, the conference was a victory lap. After several years of promoting Italian military contractors, the Italians had scored some big victories at the Pentagon. But Mr. Weldon’s efforts were equally beneficial for his district, his family, his friends and his campaign coffers.

Today, the Italians may well have second thoughts about their embrace of Mr. Weldon...

The Justice Department is looking into whether he used his position to steer almost $1 million in consulting contracts from a Russian energy company and other Eastern European interests to a lobbying firm headed by his daughter Karen, 31. Her home and her office were searched two weeks ago by federal officials.

Law enforcement officials said they were examining a wide variety of Mr. Weldon’s connections with foreign companies, but they would not discuss whether the inquiry focused directly on Finmeccanica.

Mr. Weldon’s promotion of Finmeccanica, the largest military contractor in Italy, with annual revenue of $19 billion and 55,000 employees worldwide, has certainly helped the company as it sought to become as adept as its American counterparts in playing politics to gain lucrative Pentagon contracts.

Mr. Weldon, who has offices in Upper Darby and Bridgeport, Pa., declined to comment.

A Finmeccanica subsidiary, together with Lockheed Martin, upset an American competitor to land the $1.7 billion contract to build the next Marine One presidential helicopter. Other subsidiaries are now making headway in other Pentagon contests.

Mr. Weldon’s relationship with the Italians has been mutually beneficial. His daughter Kim, 29, a former social worker, was hired by AgustaWestland, the Finmeccanica subsidiary that won the Marine One contract, shortly after her father’s speech in Portofino. Kim Weldon’s work is to set up booths at trade shows and perform public relations.

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More than 10 Americans at Finmeccanica subsidiaries in the United States, along with their spouses, were among the biggest contributors to Mr. Weldon’s campaign in 2006. Their combined donations of $20,400 edged out donations from American giants like Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

A Finmeccanica subsidiary, Oto Melara, whose 76 Super Rapid gun Mr. Weldon has championed, last year hired his close friend Cecelia Grimes, a former real estate agent, and paid her $60,000 as a federal lobbyist. Ms. Grimes has no previous Washington lobbying experience and no Washington office.

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Finmeccanica says that it has not been contacted by the Justice Department but that it is worried. In a letter last week to Il Sole 24 Ore, the company said about Mr. Weldon. “The connection between the investigations related to the person and Finmeccanica is harmful to the image of the Finmeccanica Group.”
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That relationship has its critics among Pentagon watchdog groups.

“Doesn’t the congressman have to register as a foreign agent?” asked Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, which studies Pentagon contracts. “It’s always disturbing when a member of Congress goes to bat for a particular company.

“It is even more alarming when the company is foreign. When it comes to national security, you want the best products, not products from companies with a relationship to a member of Congress.”
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“Curt Weldon was supportive of the Marine One bid, but in no way was he a key player in winning the competition,” said E. Beau Boulter, a former Republican House member from Texas who lobbies for Finmeccanica.

Mr. Boulter has earned $440,000 in the last three years from the company, and with his wife, has donated $11,400 to Mr. Weldon and his leadership political action committee in the last two years.

The argument that Mr. Weldon was motivated to help Finmeccanica to help his district or the Pentagon does not satisfy some Pentagon watchdogs.

“If anything, this all looks like quid pro quo,” said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which wrote a complaint to the Justice Department two years ago about Mr. Weldon. “Weldon will help out, but it will cost. He has no affinity for the Italians, but for what they will pay. They hired his daughter and his friend, and that is the deal.”
ouch.

Ken has been on top of this story from the get-go

2 comments:

Kathleen said...

Ouch is right, but ouch, ouch will be the tune when the Italian gov't finishes its investigation into the possibility that the Marine One contract was pay off for Italy's role in the yellowcake from Niger forgeries caper. That's even Worse than Weldon.

lukery said...

I can't wait for that day!