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Six Degrees of Alan Mollohan

On March 22, 2004, Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.) collected just over $300,000 for his re-election campaign, more than half the total that he spent for the two-year election cycle.

Of the donations he collected that day, at least $100,000 came from individuals tied to companies that have addresses in the office park built around the Alan B. Mollohan Innovation Center and operated by the West Virginia High Technology Cooperative, a foundation that Mollohan helped create.

The list of tenants in the office park reads like a who’s who of Mollohan campaign donors. But the connections between Mollohan and the building named after him don’t end there.

The office park is at the center of a web of relationships among a dozen or so individuals and companies that support Mollohan’s campaigns, his local booster organizations and the Robert H. Mollohan Family Charitable Foundation Inc.

Mollohan has provided many of these same companies with millions of dollars of federal earmarks, and announced millions more in grants to these companies from government agencies and larger federal contractors.

And the individuals who lead these companies also have deeply intertwined business relationships — many have overlapping memberships on the boards of organizations in the office park and of private for-profit companies.

Many of the organizations on the campus share the same lobbyist, Randall West of Robison International Inc., who has acknowledged that he has lobbied Mollohan, and who has a charity in his name that is operated by the Mollohan foundation.

West told Roll Call that there is nothing inappropriate in any of his lobbying relationships and he suggested that the newspaper is misinterpreting innocent relationships.

The Mollohan building, which opened in 1996, is the headquarters of the WVHTC and the centerpiece of the Interstate 79 Technology Park. A bronze bust of Mollohan stands in the lobby of the building.

Mollohan created the foundation and has provided more than $30 million in earmarks for it.

In 2000, Mollohan convened a task force to review the region’s high-tech needs and to recommend reforms in the WVHTC structure. One of the reforms was the hiring of Jim Estep as president and chief executive officer.

Estep is also an officer in a land development company and an array of other business ventures, both nonprofit and for-profit. One of the largest of these was the Institute for Scientific Research, which “was established at Mollohan’s direction,” according to his House Web site. The institute received millions of dollars in government research grants, including a NASA grant to study the possibility of building an elevator to space. In 2006, the institute completed construction of a giant, $130 million building next to the technology park, widely reported to have been built with $102 million in federal money earmarked by Mollohan.

But ISR scaled back operations that year and merged into the WVHTC, and local officials said the massive building is still more than half empty.

Roll Call reported in 2006 that the foundation and several government contractors paid for a 2004 trip that Mollohan, his wife and two top aides took to Spain.

The magazine West Virginia Executive published a story about Estep in December 2005 explaining that the WVHTC was beginning to establish “spin-off organizations.”

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