When Rep. W.J. "Billy" Tauzin (D-La.) needed money to pay off a campaign debt last year, he got it from an unusual source on the other side of the political aisle.
A company owned by Donald Bollinger, the former Louisiana GOP chairman who has worked hard for Republican candidates running against Tauzin, gave the Democratic congressman more than $15,000 toward the $750,000 debt Tauzin ran up in 1987 in an unsuccessful run for governor.
Politics didn't make these strange bedfellows, but business did. Bollinger helped Tauzin pay his debt. Then the House subcommittee that Tauzin chairs advocated the purchase of Coast Guard cutters that Bollinger's company makes.
The Bollinger Machine Shop and Shipyard in Lockport, La., now has a $73.4 million contract to build 12 new Coast Guard cutters.
The series of events is a telling example of how business is done in Washington.
Bollinger began making patrol boats for the Coast Guard in 1984. The vessels, known as Island Class cutters, are used for drug interdiction, search, rescue and defense purposes. We reported in 1986 that the cutters originally were plagued by design flaws, but those problems were corrected.
Bollinger's original 1984 contract called for the company to build 37 boats with an option for more. Tauzin chairs a subcommittee that late last year endorsed the purchase of 12 more Island Class cutters under that option.
Even without any encouragement from Bollinger, it would make political sense for Tauzin to push for more boats when the shipyard sits in his district and provides jobs for his constituents. But, before the appropriation was approved for the boat purchase, the Republican Bollinger took the unusual step across the political aisle to help the Democrat Tauzin. In March 1989, Bollinger's company gave Tauzin's campaign fund $500. Then there was another $5,000 contribution in July and $10,000 more in October, state authorities told our associate Scott Sleek.
A spokesman for Tauzin told us that the congressman received many contributions from Republicans when he was trying to pay off his debt.
Bollinger refused to talk to us about the contributions.
One of Bollinger's competitors thinks that the company has other friends in high places. The Robert E. Derecktor Shipyard in Rhode Island has sued the Navy and Bollinger over a separate contract to supply the Navy with patrol boats for special operations in the Third World. The Derecktor suit claims the Navy softened its standards so Bollinger would get that contract.
Derecktor's lawsuit also says that Bollinger got some help through the revolving door when it hired a retired Navy officer as a consultant to help prepare the company's bid for the contract. The consultant is Carl Onesty who, in December 1988, retired from his job in the Navy department that buys patrol boats.
In court, Onesty has denied that he was involved with the patrol boat project when he worked for Navy, and he says he did not contact Navy officials involved with the project after he went to work for Bollinger.