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House Chairman Says Nothing Improper In Dole Call About Contract

February 5, 1988

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A House committee chairman says he sees no evidence of impropriety by Republican presidential candidate Sen. Bob Dole in directly trying to help a former aide in 1983 obtain a government contract.

Rep. John J. LaFalce, D-N.Y., chairman of the House Small Business Committee, said Thursday he concluded there was nothing improper about Dole personally calling a federal administrator to seek assistance for the former aide, who in 1986 received a $26 million no-bid Army contract.

″Every member of Congress makes phone calls every single day to federal agencies on behalf of constituents, arranging meetings. I don’t see anything questionable about that,″ said LaFalce, whose committee has been investigating the contract award.

However, LaFalce said he continued to have ″serious questions″ about the activities of past associates of the Kansas senator in soliciting the $26 million job.

Evidence gathered by the committee staff, he said, indicated ″clearly somebody was trying to trade on their association with Dole.″

LaFalce’s comments came a day after the committee staff released a memo outlining a November 1983 call by Dole to the head of the Small Business Administration seeking help for John Palmer, a Kansas businessman who worked for the senator in 1980-82.

LaFalce said earlier this week that a preliminary investigation by the committee staff had found nothing to indicate Dole was ″personally involved in any questionable event or occurence.″

The New York lawmaker said he continued to hold that view even with the disclosure of Dole’s 1983 call. The House committee conducted its investigation because it oversees the SBA program under which Palmer obtained the three-year contract to provide food services at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.

Dole previously had insisted that he did not make any phone calls to help Palmer obtain the contract, but acknowledged that his office assisted Palmer.

After the disclosure Wednesday, Dole said he had no recollection of calling then-SBA Administrator James Sanders but he maintained that there would be nothing improper in personally contacting an agency head to help a constituent like Palmer.

Sanders, who left the SBA about two years ago, said members of Congress routinely called him when he was administrator and asked for help on matters involving the agency.

″It’s quite common for a senator or congressman to call me when one of his constituents had a problem. That’s what we’re there for,″ said Sanders.

He also contended that Dole was receiving an ″awful bad rap″ for making the call.

″There’s nothing wrong in calling me,″ said Sanders.

An Iowa official in Vice President George Bush’s presidential campaign has made references this week to the SBA contract controversy and other issues saying they reflect a ″record of cronyism″ by Dole.

According to the latest information from the committee, Robert Lhulier, the former administrator’s chief of staff, said Sanders told him that Dole ″called to request that the SBA try to help″ Palmer secure a contract.

A meeting with top SBA officials was arranged for Palmer the day after the call. Also attending, according to committee documents, were a Dole aide, David C. Owen, whose financial activities and ties to Palmer are under government investigation, and Leroy Tombs, a Kansas business who held the Fort Leonard Wood contract at the time.

LaFalce said he would be ″absolutely surprised″ if Dole’s call in 1983 had any direct influence on the awarding of the Army contract more than two years later to Palmer’s company, EDP Enterprises Inc.

However, LaFalce said, ″There are serious questions regarding the activities of Mr. Owen, Mr. Palmer and obviously some SBA officials″ in the soliciting of the contract. The committee has asked the Justice Department, FBI and SBA inspector general to continue to investigate the possibility of criminal wrongdoing and undue political influence in the contract award.

Documents show that Palmer was twice denied admission into the SBA minority set-aside program after the November 1983 meeting. He was certified in October 1984 to receive up to $50,000 in contracts. Less than a year later, Tombs made Palmer the subcontractor for all food service at Fort Leonard Wood and then in 1986 Palmer received the three-year $26 million job for his company.

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