Stanford was looking for Washington’s embrace

WASHINGTON, (Reuters) – Texas billionaire Allen  Stanford was a newcomer to Washington politics, but he looked  to make a splash at last year’s Democratic convention and  spread money on both sides of the aisle, records show.

Stanford, charged by federal regulators yesterday with  running a “massive” fraud through his Stanford Financial Group,  opened a Washington lobbying office about two years ago, after  buying the Washington Research Group, a policy study unit of  Charles Schwab & Co in 2005. The company’s lobbying spending rose sharply in 2008 to  $2.8 million, on its own and through the lobbying firm Ben  Barnes Group, according to records accessed through the Center  for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign contributions  and lobbying.

Stanford donated $4,600 to Barack Obama’s presidential  campaign that year. One of Stanford’s aides, James Davis, who  was also charged in the case, donated $2,300 to Republican John  McCain a year earlier.

Stanford’s political action committee and employees have  given more than $2.4 million to parties and candidates for  federal office since 1989, nearly two thirds of which went to  Democrats, the Center for Responsive Politics said.

The company also paid $7,441 in 2004 for Republican Senator  John Cornyn of Texas to visit Antigua, home of Stanford  International Bank, according to watchdog Legistorm.

The company’s website features a video of Stanford  delivering welcoming comments at a glittery event his company  helped sponsor in conjunction with the Democratic national  convention in Denver last year.

The video showed former Secretary of State Madeleine  Albright, House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and  then-Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean appearing at the  event, a bipartisan seminar conducted every four years by the  nonprofit National Democratic Institute.

“I would not say they (the Stanford Financial Group) were a  big player at all,” lobbyist Ben Barnes said. “Washington was  not their main interest.”

Nevertheless, Barnes said he was stunned by the U.S.  Securities and Exchange Commission charges. “I’m very shocked.  And I’m saddened.”

Barnes described Stanford as a “very energetic, tall Texan.  A lot of people would say he’s right out of central casting as  a Texas banker”.

He said his work for Stanford was mostly related to  Caribbean economic development and tax issues, and he helped  set up Stanford’s Washington lobbying office a few blocks from  the White House. He said he had not spoken to investigators.

Stanford gave the most campaign money in 2002, when it gave  $800,000 for Democratic Senate campaigns and lobbied on a bill  that would have created a state and local computer network to  crack down on financial fraud, the Center for Responsive  Politics said. The bill failed in the Senate.

Stanford was also one of several donors to the National  Democratic Institute’s bipartisan seminar last year in Denver,  which brings together international leaders and policy makers,  institute President Ken Wollock said.

“Stanford found out about our program and offered to be a  sponsor,” Wollock said. “We had no reason to believe that a  very public company that was supporting international  humanitarian charities and public policy events was somehow  suspect.”

The high-profile Stanford Washington Research Group sought  to give Washington expertise on issues such as defense and  healthcare to Stanford’s clients, beginning with a kickoff  conference in 2005 billed as featuring a keynote speech by  former Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Current lawmakers who were top recipients of Stanford  donations since 1989 included Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson of  Florida ($45,000), Republican Representative Pete Sessions of  Texas ($41,365), McCain ($28,150) and the Senate Banking  Committee Chairman Chris Dodd, a Democrat ($27,500), the  politics center said.

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