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Ex-DeLay Aide's Lobbying, Investment Intersected

The Abramoff associate helped obtain funds that went to a company in which he had a stake.

April 13, 2006|Walter F. Roche Jr. | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Edwin A. Buckham, onetime top aide to Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) and organizer of the former majority leader's national fundraising arm, successfully lobbied for federal funding benefiting a firm in which Buckham held a financial stake.

With the assistance of Rep. Dave Weldon (R-Fla.), a DeLay political ally, Buckham had $1.55 million set aside in late 2003 in a federal appropriations bill for the U.S. Department of Labor to fund a program for small businesses.

The money was awarded to the Florida Institute of Technology, which promptly signed a contract with Map Roi Inc., a client and partner of lobbyist Buckham.

At the time, Buckham's lobby company, Alexander Strategy Group, held options on 500,000 shares of Map Roi stock, records show.

Buckham and his attorney did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday. The lobbyist is an associate of Jack Abramoff and is mentioned in plea agreements filed in the federal influence peddling investigation.

Weldon also did not return calls on Wednesday. However, in a statement issued after the federal funding was approved, Weldon said he "knew right away" that Florida Tech and Map Roi "would create an excellent program."

University press releases credited Weldon with obtaining the funding, called a budget earmark.

"U.S. Rep. Dave Weldon was instrumental in bringing Map Roi to Florida Tech," a university newsletter said.

The Florida contract apparently had a positive financial impact on Map Roi, which soon after attracted about $3 million in investments from a group of venture capital firms.

Weldon filed a bill championed by DeLay to force a federal court review before a feeding tube could be removed in the Terri Schiavo case.

Weldon, who also is a physician, declared that the Florida woman was "not in a vegetative state. As a doctor I would never pull her tube out."

Buckham's lobbying efforts are being investigated by federal prosecutors in a wide-ranging probe of congressional influence peddling.

According to a plea agreement with Tony Rudy, who also worked for DeLay, "lobbyist B" helped channel $50,000 in payments to a consulting firm run by Rudy's wife. Lobbyist B has been identified as Buckham.

Rudy worked for Buckham after Rudy left his job as DeLay's deputy chief of staff. He also was registered as a lobbyist for Map Roi.

Rudy, Abramoff and another former DeLay aide, Michael P.S. Scanlon, await sentencing following guilty pleas to charges of conspiracy and bribery. All have agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.

The ties between Buckham, Abramoff and DeLay are numerous. Buckham's now-defunct Alexander Strategy paid $115,000 in consulting fees to DeLay's wife, and for a time DeLay's political action committee -- Americans for a Republican Majority, founded by Buckham -- operated out of Alexander Strategy offices.

Buckham made a trip to the Northern Mariana Islands in late 1999 as part of an effort to help an Abramoff political ally win election as speaker of the island's Legislature. That ally and now governor, Benigno R. Fitial, later helped Abramoff win a lobbying contract from the island government.

Map Roi was another client acquired in the Pacific islands as part of Buckham's joint efforts with Abramoff. The company was founded by the son-in-law of former Guam Gov. Carl T. C. Gutierrez.

Records show the Guam politician owned 2 million shares, while his daughter and son-in-law owned 27 million shares. Other Gutierrez family members, a bodyguard and press secretary also were listed as Map Roi shareholders, according to corporate records.

According to Guam officials, an effort was also made to channel an additional $20 million in federal earmarks to Map Roi over a five-year period through a contract with Guam agencies.

A legislative aide, who asked not to be identified because of political sensitivity over the matter, said Map Roi lobbying efforts sought funding for other projects in the Pacific island territories and Puerto Rico.

In a May 13, 2003, speech to Guam legislators and other officials, Gutierrez's successor as governor of Guam, Felix P. Camacho, said that a $20-million pact with Map Roi was in the works. In the speech, he credited Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) with pushing for the appropriation.

A Burns spokesman said the project was never funded.

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