Rep. Feeney sought rule change tied to Abramoff
He joined in a GOP letter criticizing an energy policy revision.
By ANITA KUMAR
Published April 29, 2007
WASHINGTON - Rep. Tom Feeney insists he never helped convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff, but in 2003 Feeney was among several lawmakers who wrote to the Energy Department opposing changes to a federal program that also were being fought by an Abramoff client.
The members of Congress sent their letter in March 2003, the same week that Atofina Chemicals sent a similar letter to the department criticizing a proposed change in the federal Energy Star program that rates consumer products for energy efficiency.
Five months later, Abramoff treated a small group of people, including Feeney, to a luxury golf trip to Scotland that began with a trans-Atlantic flight on a private jet and featured twice-daily golf at world-famous locales.
The FBI recently contacted Feeney, 48, for information about his dealings with Abramoff as part of its long-running investigation into an influence-peddling and lobbying scandal that has resulted in 11 convictions, including one member of Congress.
It's unclear why Feeney, an Orlando area Republican, took a position on the rule change in the Energy Star program. Calls to his office Friday were met with a statement: "Rep. Feeney is anxious to discuss this matter further when the time is appropriate."
In an e-mail sent to the St. Petersburg Times last year, which is now being sought by the FBI, Feeney's then-chief of staff Jason Roe vehemently denied any improper relationship with Abramoff.
"Tom has never written a letter for Abramoff. Abramoff has never been in our office. Abramoff has never asked anything of us, " Roe wrote. "There is no accusation of a quid pro quo. No quid pro quo exists."
Industry was divided
Energy Star was introduced in 1992 as a voluntary program to save money and protect the environment through energy efficient products and practices.
The Energy Department began considering updating the criteria for its windows program around 2000 to keep up with emerging technologies. The proposed changes divided the window and door industry, and a decision was postponed several times.
Atofina paid Abramoff's firm, Greenberg Traurig, $660, 000 in 2002 and 2003 to lobby on several issues, including the Energy Star program. The lobbyists listed included Abramoff, now serving almost six years in prison in connection with a floating casino deal, and two others still with the firm, Alan Slomowitz and Michael E. Williams. Williams went to Scotland with Abramoff a year before Feeney's trip.
Congress had no say in the decision but a letter obtained by the Times shows that 10 Republican members, including Feeney, urged the department not to change certain criteria.
Among the other members who signed the letter was California Rep. John Doolittle, whose Virginia home was raided recently by FBI agents investigating fundraising by his wife as part of the Abramoff case.
Some of the lawmakers who signed the letter said they do not remember who brought the issue to their attention, but they have large window or chemical manufacturers in their districts that could have been affected by the new rule.
Feeney's district includes at least one large window and door manufacturer: WinDoor Inc. of Orlando, which employs about 250. The company makes products with the Energy Star program and could have been affected by changes.
Rep. Richard Baker, who signed the letter, was asked to get involved by the American Chemistry Council. The congressman has several chemical companies in his Louisiana district, including one Atofina facility, and he received at least $1, 000 from Atofina's political action committee in 2004.
"Should the department go forward with the 3-zone map that the program officer prefers, " the letter said, "there will be considerable job and capital investment loss in significant regions of the country."
Less than a week later, Atofina safety engineer David Koller wrote to David Garman, who was then assistant energy secretary. Both letters to DOE, the one by Atofina and the one by members of Congress, pointed out the potential for lost jobs with the new rule, and both noted that the "three-zone map" had been proposed and scrapped before.
Ultimately, the changes they opposed were enacted.
Atofina, now called Arkema, is a chemical manufacturer based in Philadelphia that employs 2, 500 people. Calls to Arkema and the Department of Energy were not returned.
Feeney, former speaker of the Florida House, is one of three men who were U.S. House members when they accompanied Abramoff to Scotland on trips that included rounds of golf at the legendary Royal & Ancient Golf Club at St. Andrews.
The others: former Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, who is serving prison time for corruption related to his Abramoff relationship, and former House Republican leader Tom DeLay, who was indicted in an unrelated Texas fundraising case and is under investigation in the Abramoff case.
Records and media reports show lawmakers - including Ney and DeLay - helped Abramoff with his lobbying.
Feeney received $4, 000 from Abramoff and three of his clients but gave the $1, 000 directly from Abramoff to charity after the scandal broke. He also paid the tab at Abramoff's former Washington restaurant, Signatures, at least three times, twice when the costs were more than $2, 000, according to Feeney's campaign finance reports.
Times researcher Angie Drobnic Holan and staff writers Wes Allison and Bill Adair contributed to this report. Anita Kumar can be reached at email@example.com or 202 463-0576.