Will Senate Ethics Committee Probe Ted Stevens?

Will the Senate Ethics Committee deal with the question of whether the most senior senator became wealthy through investments in interests that benefited from government assistance secured with his help?

Thanks to a December 17 story in the Los Angeles Times, the issue of whether to probe the dealings of Senate Appropriations Chairman Ted Stevens (R.-Alaska) will face Ethics Chairman George Voinovich (R.-Ohio) and the bipartisan panel when they return from the Christmas recess.

The Times reported:

1. “Armed with the power his committee posts give him over the Pentagon, Stevens helped save a $450-million military housing contract for an Anchorage businessman. The same businessman made Stevens a partner in a series of real estate investments that turned the senator’s $50,000 stake into at least $750,000 in six years.”

2. “An Alaska Native company that Stevens helped create got millions of dollars in defense contracts through preferences he wrote into law. Now the company pays $6 million a year to lease an office building owned by the senator and his business partners. Stevens continues to push legislation that benefits the company.”

3. “An Alaskan communications company benefited from the senator’s activities on the Commerce Committee. His wife, Catherine, earned tens of thousands of dollars from an inside deal involving the company’s stock.”

After the Times story was published, Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW), which has long dogged Stevens for steering billions of federal dollars into his home state, denounced the senator as someone who “thinks he can get away with anything in the pursuit of a plush retirement.” CAGW called for the Senate Ethics Committee to investigate Stevens. Another watchdog group, Project on Government Oversight, demanded that Stevens relinquish the Appropriations gavel.

For his part, the longest-serving Republican in the Senate told reporters in Anchorage that he has violated no Senate rules, that he has only been a “passive investor” in the ventures in which he has placed his money, and that after 35 years in the Senate, it would be hard for him to invest his money anywhere in Alaska without someone seeing a conflict of interest. Stevens added that anyone who thought he would resign as chairman because a newspaper story was “crazy.”