Over the last ten years, R. Allen Stanford -- the Texas billionaire charged by the SEC today with "massive fraud" -- and his companies have spent at least $5 million on lobbying expenditures and campaign contributions to a bipartisan group of congressional leaders.
The heavy political spending comes despite Stanford's history of run-ins with federal regulators dating back at least to 1999, when he caught the attention of the State Department for his role in tightening the already-secretive banking laws of the Caribbean island nation of Antigua.
As the Clinton administration began vigorously investigating money laundering cases in 1999, Stanford hired a respected lobbying firm, Verner Liipfert, Bernard, McPherson & Hand. And starting in February 2000, Stanford Financial Group, "which had never made a federal campaign contribution before -- started pouring money into Republican and Democratic party committee," according to Public Citizen.
Stanford aimed most of his contributions at Congressional leaders, giving $95,000 to the 527 groups of then-Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, then-House Democratic Caucus Chairman Martin Frost, and then-Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott ($5,000).
According to Public Citizen:
In doing so, Stanford became the single largest contributor between July 1, 2000 and June 30, 2001 to the 527 groups of Daschle and Frost...
Stanford gave an additional $100,000 to the Bush Inaugural Committee - as the new administration prepared its own money laundering strategy. More stringent controls were not proposed. Instead, the Treasury Department went to work watering down reporting requirements that are considered burdensome by many (including Stanford) in the financial services industry.61 In August, Treasury changed its tax shelter regulations to allow corporations to avoid some reporting requirements in an attempt to "ease tax administration."
Though tough anti-money-laundering legislation overwhelmingly sailed through the House Banking Committee in 2000, it had difficulty getting to another vote as powerful GOP lawmakers -- then-House Majority Leader Dick Armey, then-House Majority Whip Tom DeLay and then-Senate Banking Committee chair Phil Gramm stymied its future.
DeLay was among the largest recipients of Stanford's largesse. And "DeLay's committees paid for flights on Stanford's jets at least 16 times since 2003, including on Oct. 20, the day the former House majority leader was booked in a Houston courthouse on money-laundering charges," according to Bloomberg News.
Stanford Financial or its employees also contributed to the legal defense funds of three lawmakers tarnished by ethics allegations -- DeLay, Democratic Senator Robert Torricelli, Republican Bob Ney.
In recent years, Stanford has been especially active. In the 2008 election cycle, Stanford Financial Group's PAC contributed to a bipartisan group of lawmakers including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, current White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin and House Ways & Means Committee chairman Charles Rangel.
And in 2008, Stanford Financial paid $2.2 million to lobbyists James K. Conzelman and Lionel C. Johnson, which is more than the firm spent in the previous six years combined. Lobbying disclosure forms from last year state that the lobbyists met with members of Congress to discuss "general financial issues that might affect Stanford FInancial Group."