E-Mail Backing Connolly Raises Questions

By Amy Gardner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 29, 2008

A senior executive at the government contractor Science Applications International Corp. has encouraged employees to contribute to Democratic congressional candidate Gerald E. Connolly, raising questions about whether the solicitation violated federal campaign finance rules.

In an e-mail this month to "fellow SAIC teammates," Robert A. Rosenberg, a former executive vice president and general manager for SAIC's Northern Virginia operations whom the company calls a "consulting employee," urged colleagues to support Connolly in part because of his "in-depth understanding of our industry."

Connolly, who is chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, works part time for SAIC as a vice president for community relations.

SAIC spokeswoman Melissa L. Koskovich said Rosenberg sent the e-mail only to executives, administrators, stockholders and their families, as is allowed by Federal Election Commission regulations. She did not say how many people received the e-mail. Nor is it known whether any recipients felt compelled to donate because of Rosenberg's senior status.

Connolly said he had nothing to do with the solicitation, though he knew Rosenberg was planning it.

"I was aware of the fact that he was going to organize something for some SAIC employees who wanted to be supportive," Connolly said.

The solicitation falls into a gray area of campaign finance law, said Allison Hayward, a law professor at George Mason University and a former FEC lawyer. Corporate contributions are illegal in federal campaigns, as is coercing employees to donate. That doesn't prevent individuals from urging colleagues to support a particular candidate, unless the solicitation appears to be on behalf of the company, she said.

Rosenberg's e-mail raises questions because it was sent to employees with whom he has professional relationships as opposed to personal friends, Hayward said. It also focuses on Connolly's knowledge of the contracting business and what he could do for SAIC if elected to Congress, she said.

"Individuals don't lose their ability to talk to their friends and colleagues at work, including asking them to vote for a favorite candidate," Hayward said. "But the more broadly he's soliciting people that maybe he knows only slightly, and if he's clearly using a corporate list, I think that is a fact that shows this isn't his personal political activity."

Rosenberg could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Connolly faces three other Democrats in the 11th Congressional District primary June 10: former congresswoman Leslie L. Byrne, former Navy fighter pilot Douglas J. Denneny and physical therapist Lori P. Alexander.

Connolly leads his rivals in money raised partly because of strong support he has received from the defense contracting interests that have backed Rep. Tom Davis (R), who is retiring.

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