Thompson Adviser Has Criminal Past

By Matthew Mosk
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 4, 2007

Republican presidential candidate Fred D. Thompson has been crisscrossing the country since early this summer on a private jet lent to him by a businessman and close adviser who has a criminal record for drug dealing.

Thompson selected the businessman, Philip Martin, to raise seed money for his White House bid. Martin is one of four campaign co-chairmen and the head of a group called the "first day founders." Campaign aides jokingly began to refer to Martin, who has been friends with Thompson since the early 1990s, as the head of "Thompson's Airforce."

Thompson's frequent flights aboard Martin's twin-engine Cessna 560 Citation have saved him more than $100,000, because until the law changed in September, campaign-finance rules allowed presidential candidates to reimburse private jet owners for just a fraction of the true cost of flights.

Martin entered a plea of guilty to the sale of 11 pounds of marijuana in 1979; the court withheld judgment pending completion of his probation. He was charged in 1983 with violating his probation and with multiple counts of felony bookmaking, cocaine trafficking and conspiracy. He pleaded no contest to the cocaine-trafficking and conspiracy charges, which stemmed from a plan to sell $30,000 worth of the drug, and was continued on probation.

Thompson's campaign said the candidate was not aware of the multiple criminal cases, for which Martin served no jail time. All are described in public court records.

Karen Hanretty, Thompson's deputy communications director, said yesterday that "Senator Thompson was unaware of the information until this afternoon. Phil Martin has been a friend of the senator since the mid-1990s and remains so today." Thompson communications director Todd Harris added that Martin was not subjected to the campaign's standard vetting process because "he's a longtime friend."

"There's not a campaign in the world that has the ability to research every one of its supporters going back more than 20 years," Harris said.

Martin could not be reached in the past week, and lawyers for him in Tennessee and Florida declined to comment on the criminal cases. Hanretty said she forwarded detailed questions from The Washington Post to Martin yesterday afternoon.

Martin, 49, is one of several top political fundraisers with a criminal past to gain access this year to a presidential contender. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton decided in September to return more than $800,000 raised by Norman Hsu, one of her top bundlers, after newspapers disclosed that he had been convicted of fraud and had an outstanding warrant for his arrest.

Martin has been more than just a key fundraiser to Thompson, though. The use of his plane eases a major logistical burden stemming from the intense demands on presidential candidates this year for appearances in more than 20 states holding early primaries. It also may have saved the campaign at least $120,000, given that Federal Election Commission rules allowed Thompson to reimburse Martin for the use of the private jet at the commercial ticket rate until Congress changed the rules in September.

Thompson has reported reimbursing Martin $102,330, without specifying precisely where he flew on the plane, or when. But a comparison of flight records for the plane, kept by the tracking firm FlightAware, and news accounts of Thompson's campaign appearances this year shows that since June the plane has made more than two dozen stops that coincided with Thompson campaign events.

The destinations included a GOP fundraising luncheon in South Carolina, rallies in Houston and Dallas, a leadership conference in Indianapolis, and the Minnesota State Fair. The most recent trip was on Thursday, when the plane left Las Vegas with Thompson on board, bound for Washington, where Thompson has long been an industry lobbyist.

CONTINUED     1           >

© 2007 The Washington Post Company