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Feinstein quits committee under war-profiteer cloud

Posted By -NO AUTHOR- On 03/28/2007 @ 10:05 pm In Front Page | Comments Disabled



Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., has abruptly walked away from her responsibilities with the Senate Military Construction Appropriations Subcommittee after a report linked her votes to the financial well-being of her husband’s companies, which received billions of dollars worth of military construction contracts she approved.

As reported in Metroactive, an online report from the Silicon Valley, Feinstein’s resignation followed six years of subcommittee work during which time her alleged conflict of interest stemmed from her husband Richard C. Blum’s ownership of Perini Corp. and URS Corp.

Feinstein, chairman and ranking member of the subcommittee, regularly reviewed and accepted contracts from her husband’s companies for not only construction work for military bases, but also addressing “quality of life” issues for the veterans of the United States military services.

“As MILCON leader, Feinstein relished the details of military construction, even micromanaging one project at the level of its sewer design,” wrote Peter Byrne in the report. “She regularly took junkets to military bases around the world to inspect construction projects, some of which were contracted to her husband’s companies, Perini Corp. and URS Corp.”

He suggested perhaps Feinstein resigned “because she could not take the heat generated by metro’s expose of her ethics… Or was her work on the subcommittee finished because Blum divested ownership of his military construction and advanced weapons manufacturing firms in late 2005?”

The writer also noted another reason could be that since that subcommittee is responsible for veterans’ “quality of life” issues, perhaps she was trying to distance herself from the military’s failure to provide decent medical care for wounded servicemembers.

“Feinstein abandoned MILCON as her ethical problems were surfacing in the media, and as it was becoming clear that her subcommittee left grievously wounded veterans to rot while her family was profiting from the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. It turns out that Blum also holds large investments in companies that were selling medical equipment and supplies and real estate leases – often without the benefit of competitive bidding – to the Department of Veterans Affairs, even as the system of medical care for veterans collapsed on his wife’s watch,” he wrote.

The Metroactive report, based on research partly funded by the Investigative Fund of the Nation Institute, noted that as of the end of 2006, federal documents showed three companies in which Blum’s financial entities owned a total of $1 billion in stock got $17.8 million for medical equipment and supplies (Boston Scientific Corp.), $12 million for medical supplies and equipment (Kinetic Concepts Inc.), and additional funding through lease contracts (CB Richard Ellis).

“You would think that, considering all the money Feinstein’s family has pocketed by waging global warfare while ignoring the plight of wounded American soldiers, she would show a smidgeon of shame and resign from the entire Senate, not just a subcommittee,” Byrne wrote. “Conversely, you’d think she might stick around MILCON to try and fix the medical-care disaster she helped to engineer for the vets who were suckered into fighting her and Bush’s panoply of unjust wars.”

Byrne earlier had documented the connections between the dollars Feinstein voted on and the revenue for Blum’s companies.

From 1997 through 2005 Blum, with Feinstein’s knowledge, was a majority owner in both URS Corp. and Perini Corp., both of which were regularly among the companies awarded major military contracts proposed by the Department of Defense.

According to those reports, from 2001 to 2005, URS earned $792 million from military construction and environmental cleanup work approved by MILCON, while Perini collected $759 million for the same.

Feinstein’s annual Public Financial Disclosure Reports record sizeable family income from investments in the Framingham, Mass.-based Perini and the San Francisco-located URS. But there was no acknowledgment of any conflict of interest, according to Metroactive, a “Northern California meta-site” that specializes in arts and entertainment information from area publications: Metro, Silicon Valley’s Weekly Newspaper; Metro Santa Cruz; and the North Bay Bohemian.

Byrne also reported Michael R. Klein, an adviser to Feinstein and business partner with Blum, said that starting in 1997 he routinely told Feinstein about federal projects coming before her in which Perini had a stake, in order for her to avoid those votes and as such, a conflict of interest.

However, instead of withholding a vote, she did act on those pieces of legislation, Byrne reported. Ultimately, “the Congressional Record shows that as chairperson and ranking member of MILCON, Feinstein was often involved in supervising the legislative details of military construction projects that directly affected Blum’s defense-contracting firms,” Byrne’s report said.

“Sen. Feinstein has had a serious conflict of interest, a serious insensitivity to ethical considerations,” Wendell Rawls, of the Center for Public Integrity in Washington, told Metroactive. “The very least she should have done is to recuse herself from having conversations, debates, voting or any other kind of legislative activity that involved either Perini Corp. or URS Corp. or any other business activity where her husband’s financial were involved.”

One example was that in 2005, MILCON approved a Pentagon plan to fund “overhead coverage force protection” for Iraq to reinforce the roofs of U.S. Army barracks. About three months later, Perini announced an award of a $185 million contract to provide “overhead coverage force protection to the Army in Iraq.”

Byrne noted when Blum divested ownership of URS and Perini in 2005, the conflict of interest was resolved. “But Feinstein’s ethical dilemma arose from the fact that, for five years, the interests of Perini and URS and CB Richard Ellis were inextricably entwined with her leadership of MILCON … .”

The investigation examined thousands of pages of documents, including transcripts of hearings in Congress, filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and reports and government audits as well as corporate press releases.

The result? “The paper trails showing Sen. Feinstein’s conflict of interest is irrefutable,” according to Danielle Brian, of the Project on Government Oversight.

“Because of the amount of money involved,” said Melanie Sloan, of the Citizens for Responsible Ethics in Washington, “Feinstein’s conflict of interest is an order of magnitude greater than [other] conflicts [involving U.S. Rep. John T. Doolittle, former Speaker Dennis Hastert and others].”

In 2005, Roll Call calculated Feinstein’s wealth at $40 million, up $10 million from just a year earlier. Reports show her family earned between $500,000 and $5 million from capital gains on URS and Perini stock. From CB Richard Ellis, her husband earned from $1.3 million to $4 million.

Public records show Blum’s company paid $4 a share for controlling interest in Perini, and later sold about three million shares for $23.75 each.

The report also showed URS’ military construction work in 2000 was only $24 million, but the next year, when Feinstein took over as MILCON chair, military construction earned URS $185 million. Additionally, its military construction architectural and engineering revenue rose from $108,000 in 2000 to $142 million in 2001, a thousand-fold increase.

In late 2005, Blum sold 5.5 million URS shares, worth $220 million, the report said.



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