Wife, Friend Tie Congressman to Consulting Firm
Friday, July 28, 2006
Two months before Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) became chairman of the powerful House Government Reform Committee in January 2003, one of his close friends formed ICG Government, a consulting company for technology firms seeking government contracts.
Donald W. Upson had risen with Davis through the burgeoning Northern Virginia technology community, where they worked side by side as executives at a company that sold computer systems to the government.
Davis went on to Congress, where he became a leading voice on government contracting and an advocate for his technology industry constituents in Fairfax and Prince William counties. Upson became the top technology official for the Virginia government before reentering the private sector and starting ICG.
From the beginning, Upson worked with Davis and his staff as he built his consulting business, which holds seminars on procurement and advises clients on winning government technology contracts worth billions of dollars. Those contracts often came under the oversight of Davis's committee. One of Upson's first hires was Jeannemarie Devolites, a Virginia politician who later married the congressman.
ICG has a record of satisfied clients, who say the firm has provided them with access to the congressman and his staff.
In an opinion issued this week, the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct told the congressman that his wife can work for the consulting firm as long as the couple does not personally benefit from any official acts by the congressman. The committee told them to take care to "avoid a claim that you are allowing your official title to be used for private gain."
Davis, 57, acknowledged that Upson, 51, is "a very close confidant and political ally." But the congressman said that Upson did not have "unique access" to his office and that his wife has no business on Capitol Hill. Davis added that he had broken no laws and saw no ethics or disclosure violations.
ICG's relationship with Davis has played out on a number of levels. The firm has arranged for clients to meet with Davis in his congressional office. Upson has set up dinners and receptions with the lawmaker for his clients. And ICG has arranged for clients to testify before Davis's committee. In one case, Upson's team wrote the testimony. Some of those clients, who pay ICG about $8,000 per month, have told The Washington Post that their testimony was a part of marketing strategies developed by ICG to bolster the clients' "clout" and "visibility" on Capitol Hill and with government contracting officials.
On one occasion, Upson helped a client write a threatening letter to the Pentagon that was then sent out with Davis's signature on his committee's letterhead.
Davis's wife, a part-time ICG consultant, has contacted senior government technology officials on behalf of clients, including an undersecretary at the Department of Homeland Security. Upson paid her $78,000 last year for working "10 to 20 hours a week," primarily at home on her cellphone, she said. She makes $18,000 a year as a Virginia legislator.
"I think you'd be hard pressed to say that we started to take sides in something in any kind of manner, undue manner, where we used the power of this committee to alter a decision that was against the interests of the American people or the taxpayers," Davis said in a two-hour interview at his Capitol Hill office July 11. "I don't think Don's ever abused this in his relations with me."
Davis said that Upson hired his wife before they were engaged and that she is entitled to earn a living. He said the couple takes steps to ensure that she does not appeal to him on behalf of ICG clients.