Ethics Looks Into Weldon Allegations
The House ethics committee has begun an informal investigation into allegations that Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.) used his office to aid his daughter’s public relations firm, an investigation the veteran lawmaker’s staffers said he welcomed.
Under ethics committee rules, Reps. Joel Hefley (R-Colo.) and Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.), chairman and ranking member of the panel, may initiate their own inquiry into whether a Member or staffer violated House regulations, even without a formal complaint having been submitted. Unless the committee moves toward the appointment of an investigative subcommittee, as has occurred recently with Rep. Nick Smith (R-Mich.), the panel need not make a public announcement of its actions.
Mike Conallen, Weldon’s chief of staff, said the Pennsylvania Republican actually reached out to the ethics committee even before the Los Angeles Times published an article on Feb. 20 outlining contacts the lawmaker has had with companies and individuals that retained his daughter’s firm.
Weldon has hired ethics lawyer William Canfield of Williams and Jensen to represent him. Canfield is a former counsel to the Senate Ethics Committee, and is well known for his aggressive approach to ethics cases.
“We proactively reached out to the ethics committee and gave them a paragraph-by-paragraph response to that article,” said Conallen. “We thought is was important to assure the ethics committee that some of the allegations and inferences in that story were completely baseless and without merit.”
Conallen said Weldon’s office has sent the ethics panel a 36-page response to the article, as well as 200 pages of supporting documents. Conallen declined to release those materials, although he added that Weldon has yet to receive a response from the ethics committee. Weldon himself has also not met with anyone from the ethics committee.
Canfield said Weldon was seeking to rebut “misconceptions, misperceptions and outright factual errors” that have been published about Weldon and his daughter.
Karen Weldon is a partner in the firm Solutions Worldwide, which is apparently called Solutions North America, Inc., as well.
The Times reported that, using her father’s contacts, Karen Weldon was able to obtain contracts worth nearly $1 million per year for Solutions to represent several foreign clients, especially Russian ones, in the United States. Curt Weldon, a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee, has become a well-known expert in Russian affairs during his time in Congress.
While the Times characterized Karen Weldon as a lobbyist, both Conallen and Canfield insist she does no lobbying but is actually a public relations specialist.
Karen Weldon also has denied that her success in winning those contracts is due to her father’s status as a Member of Congress. She did not return several calls seeking comment for this article.
Karen Weldon did, however, join her father on official Congressional trips, and the nine-term lawmaker sat in on some meetings she had with clients. Karen Weldon’s company even picked up the bill when Conallen travelled to Serbia in November 2003 and met with one of those clients, Dragomir and Bogoljub Karic, who have been unable to obtain visas to travel to the United States due to their alleged ties to accused war criminal Slobodan Milosevic.
After a reporter made inquiries about the trip, Conallen reimbursed Solutions for the trip, which cost just over $2,400.
Conallen said he did not realize that because Solutions is registered with the Justice Department under the Foreign Agents Registration Act that he would have violated the gift ban and thus needed to pay for the trip himself.
A Russian aerospace company, the Saratov Aviation Company, hired Solutions in early 2003 after the Congressman met and spoke with officials from the company, which makes an unmanned aerial reconnaissance drone. The lawmaker, who chairs the Armed Services subcommittee on tactical air and land forces, later contacted Navy officials about the device. Saratov signed a nonbinding letter of intent with the Naval Air Systems Command for Navair to seek U.S. government funding to help develop the technology.
Conallen said a family friend with extensive Russian business contacts, Philadelphia lawyer John J. Gallagher, actually helped broker that deal between Solutions and Saratov. Gallagher is close to Charles Sexton, Karen Weldon’s partner in Solutions.
“[Gallagher] is as familiar with many of the players over in Moscow as the Congressman is,” said Conallen. “He introduces Charlie to many people.”
And on Sept. 24, 2002, Curt Weldon was one of 30 lawmakers to attend a dinner at the Library of Congress to honor the chairman of Itera International Energy Corporation, a Russian natural gas firm that had that week signed a $500,000-per year contract with his daughter’s firm to “create good public relations” in the United States. The Pennsylvania Republican praised Itera during a floor speech two days later. On Sept. 30, Itera officially signed its deal with Solutions.
The Times reported that Weldon’s office helped arrange the dinner. Conallen said his boss was one of more than a dozen Members who helped put together that dinner for Itera, and added that event was ”very similar” to a number of other gatherings that Curt Weldon has hosted in recent years.
“Any inference that we hosted or participated in a dinner in an exchange for a contract [for Karen Weldon] is completely without merit, is false,” Conallen said.
Conallen said Karen Weldon has never lobbied Congress or the executive branch, and that Curt Weldon forbid her from having business contacts with his office.
Under House ethics rules, no Member or staffer may use his or her official position to “provide any benefit, financial or otherwise, to himself or to friends, relatives, or persons with with whom the employee is affiliated in a nongovernmental capacity.”