THE RACE TO THE WHITE HOUSE
Kerry Denies Donations Fueled Lobbying for Contractor
The senator says he worked to free funds for a missile system to keep jobs in Massachusetts.By Lisa Getter
Times Staff Writer
February 20, 2004
WASHINGTON — Massachusetts Sen. John F. Kerry said Thursday that he was not swayed by campaign contributions when he sent 28 letters in support of a San Diego defense contractor who pleaded guilty last week to illegally funneling him money.
Responding to a report in the Los Angeles Times, Kerry said in a television interview on CNN that he "fought for jobs in Massachusetts."
"Every person in the United States Senate and Congress fights for their state, and there are people who support them for those reasons, obviously," he said during an interview on CNN's "Inside Politics."
Between 1996 and 1999, Kerry sent the letters to fellow members of Congress and officials in the Pentagon, asking that they free up funds for a missile system that was being developed by Science and Applied Technology Inc., a San Diego firm run by Parthasarathi "Bob" Majumder.
A Massachusetts firm, Millitech, also worked on the project.
Majumder pleaded guilty last week to illegally reimbursing employees, friends and contractors for the money they contributed to Kerry and four other congressmen. Prosecutors said the lawmakers did not know the funds they received were tainted.
Kerry, the current Democratic presidential front-runner, said he was never swayed by campaign money or special interests.
"They haven't gotten anything for it," he said last month of lobbyists and groups that have contributed to his campaigns. "Those guys have never, ever, ever gotten anything."
Majumder and his company, however, did get an assist with Kerry's letter-writing appeals. Former employees recalled Thursday that they were encouraged to attend a fundraiser for Kerry in Woodland Hills in December 1998.
Of the roughly $25,000 received from Majumder and his employees, Kerry donated $13,000 to charity last week — the amount prosecutors could prove was tainted — two days before Majumder pleaded guilty.
Kerry dismissed a suggestion that his lobbying effort for the guided missile program was a quid pro quo for the contributions.
"I've gone out and raised money from individual Americans. And if you added up all the money in my lifetime that's been given to me by lobbyists, anybody who's lobbied for anything, it's about 1% of the total of everything I've done," he told CNN.
Kerry was also asked about his dealings with Majumder in a television interview on PBS. He repeated his vow to curb the power of special interests in Washington. "And when I'm president, we're going to get the big money out of American politics," he said.
Majumder began donating money to Kerry and four other congressmen in 1996, soon after the Defense Department proposed cutbacks in funding and raised the possibility of ending the project altogether.
Some of the money Kerry received was collected at a fundraiser in December 1998 that coincided with a Kerry visit to the contractor's Woodland Hills facility. The money collected that year helped Kerry erase a campaign debt from his 1996 Senate race.
Christina Andrada, who was then one of the firm's security representatives, said in an interview Thursday that the senator's visit was highly unusual. It occurred on a Saturday, a nonworking day, she said, and Kerry and one of his aides came in a car rented by the company.
She said employees were told to keep the visit "quiet in the defense community."
"One of the corporate guys came out on the Friday before his visit and said that Kerry would someday be president and we needed his support in defense contracting," Andrada said.
As part of her job, she arranged clearances for those visiting the site since secret work on behalf of the military was underway.
"When I heard Sen. Kerry was visiting on a Saturday, I was concerned," she said. "Why was this guy here? What did he have to do with California?
"It was very unusual. All nonessential personnel were told to stay home."
Andrada said a number of employees were invited to a reception for Kerry.
"Those that wanted to attend had to sign up," she said. "We knew we had to pay an entrance fee. If we had to go and write checks, Dr. Majumder would pay us back."
She said she didn't go. "I'm a Republican," she said.
John Beuerman, the manager of the radar department, attended the fundraising dinner for Kerry. He said Majumder sent out an e-mail to employees telling them contributions were not required.
Beuerman remembered the message said the dinner was "an opportunity to meet someone who's a rising star in the national scene."
He said he nevertheless asked the person putting together the dinner what an appropriate donation would be. He was told $125 a person; Beuerman contributed $250. He said he was not reimbursed.
"We had a chance to mix and talk to Sen. Kerry," he said. Kerry gave a short speech after dinner, though Beuerman didn't remember what it was about.
"I knew he and Majumder were friends," he said. "He periodically passed through. I think he happened to be in the area."
Kerry's campaign staff said they were trying to find details of Kerry's visit to the facility, but as of late Thursday had been unable to find records verifying it.
The Defense Department has continued to fund the guided missile program, although Majumder's company was sold after he came under federal investigation. Millitech was sold in 2000 to a private investors group.
Times staff writer Alan Miller contributed to this report.