WASHINGTON--A real estate developer and Democratic Party
contributor last week deflected a House panel's criticism that he used political
influence to get an agreeable lease on the future Federal Communications Commission
Franklin L. Haney, a Tennessean and longtime friend of Vice
President Al Gore, told the House Commerce Committee's oversight subcommittee that he
is not a "detail person" and was not involved in negotiating the lease.
Haney is a part owner of the Portals, a building in
southwest Washington. The FCC is slated to move 2,000 employees to the facility later this
year. But the agency has already begun paying rent, spending $14 million between July 1,
1997 and July 31, 1998.
The lease's early starting date was a critical issue
for many lawmakers. They asked whether Haney had used politically connected associates to
negotiate that and other provisions of the lease with the FCC and General Services
Administration before Haney bought into the Portals project.
Committee Republicans repeatedly questioned Haney about $1
million in fees he paid both Peter Knight, Gore's former chief of staff, and former
Sen. James Sasser, currently the U.S. ambassador to China, for legal work on the project.
Sasser, who lost his Senate seat in 1994 and wasn't appointed ambassador until 1996,
was a private lawyer at the
time of the Haney payments.
Haney told the panel Knight had been hired for three years
of work on a variety of projects and Sasser was hired to work out the financing on the
But many committee Republicans continued to ask skeptical
questions, pointing out, for example, that Knight had sent his bill to Haney the same day
the deal closed.
States News Service