Northpoint Accused Of Lying

Posted November 18, 2003 at 6:43pm

A pair of House Democrats on Tuesday accused Northpoint Technology of fraudulently adding their names to a letter in support of the company’s effort to include language in a year-end spending bill to help the upstart wireless cable firm enter the market.

Reps. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.) and Albert Wynn (D-Md.) said Tuesday they don’t support the provision backed by Northpoint and maintained that they never gave the company permission to use their names in support of the company.

“They came by late Friday and told my staff that I had authorized it,” Wynn said. “It was an absolute lie.”

Towns added that he had only been duped like that once in his 21 years in Congress. “The way we operate around here is on the honor system,” he said.

Northpoint lobbyists denied the charge, insisting that they simply showed the aides the letter and asked if their bosses would consider signing it.

“The accusations are completely unfounded,” said Northpoint’s Toni Cook Bush. “The only thing I can say is that their offices were asked to sign the letter. They took the letter and reviewed it and signed the letter.”

Bush added that the Northpoint lobbyists did not tell the aides that their bosses had agreed to sign the letter.

Still, the charge from the pair of House Democrats was the latest bit of bad news during what has turned out to be a rough week for Northpoint, a startup company that says it can provide television and high-speed Internet service for less than satellite-television companies and cable operators.

Bowing to pressure from DirecTV and House appropriators, sources said Congressional negotiators are close to eliminating the Northpoint measure from the spending bills.

“The House and Senate have tentatively agreed to drop it,” said an aide to the House Appropriations Committee.

Northpoint had pressed for an amendment in the appropriations endgame that would permit the company to get access to the same wireless spectrum used by satellite-television concerns DirecTV and EchoStar without having to bid for the spectrum at a Federal Communications Commission auction.

To generate support for the amendment, Northpoint last week teamed up with one of its allies, Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.), to write a letter to House appropriators in support of retaining the amendment in the Commerce, Justice, State and the judiciary appropriations bill.

Watt, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, printed the letter on CBC letterhead because a majority of the caucus backs Northpoint, and the company’s lobbyists went door-to-door rounding up signatures in the House.

By Friday, Watts and Northpoint had gathered about 30 signatures from members of the Congressional Black Caucus, including Towns and Wynn.

After the letter was sent, however, Towns and Wynn said they don’t support Northpoint’s effort. The House Members said Northpoint lobbyists tricked their staffs into adding the lawmakers’ signatures on the letter by telling the aides that Towns and Wynn had agreed to sign the letter.

In a stinging follow-up letter sent to House leaders Tuesday, Towns and Wynn reiterated that they don’t support the provision backed by Northpoint and maintained that they “never granted permission for our names to be used on a letter in support of these amendments.”

They added: “These signatures were gained fraudulently and we strongly denounce the tactics used by Northpoint Technologies in garnering our signatures without our knowledge or permission.”

Aides to the lawmakers said they were led to believe that the letter was routine correspondence from the caucus to House leaders.

“They came to the office saying that it was a CBC thing,” said one aide. “We place the blame on Northpoint, they were the ones carrying the letter around and making the presentation that it was a CBC initiative.”

Bush, the Northpoint lobbyist, said that the company has enjoyed the support of Towns and Wynn in the past and was surprised at the lawmakers’ follow-up letter.

“I’m sure that this was a misunderstanding because I am confident that neither office is suggesting that their office would sign a letter at the request of a complete stranger,” she said.

In Wynn’s office, approval for the signature was given by a scheduler, according to spokeswoman Amaya Smith.

Towns and Wynn, who were both out of town last week when the Northpoint lobbyist arrived at their offices, did not know their names were appearing on the letter until another Northpoint lobbyist called to thank them for supporting the company.

“There tactics are questionable,” Wynn said. “I can’t believe it.”