Postmaster General William F. Bolger announced yesterday that he would not accept a job as president of the Direct Marketing Association because of the "perception that some people had" that it would violate federal conflict-of-interest laws.
Bolger's announcement came amid reports that he had been chosen by the presidential search committee of the association, which represents nearly 7,000 firms and individuals involved in direct mail advertising. Bolger, 61, is scheduled to retire as head of the U.S. Postal Service at the end of the year.
Since last year, DMA has been involved in an intense lobbying effort to stop the Postal Service from raising third-class mail rates, which most of its members use. Last November, the Postal Service proposed a general rate increase, including a 21 to 28 percent increase in most third-class rates. The independent Postal Rate Commission is expected to make a recommendation on the proposed increases this Friday.
Bolger said the association first contacted him about a job last spring. Because of DMA's interest in the pending rate case, Bolger said that he took several steps to protect himself from any conflict-of-interest problems, including excusing himself from all board discussions about rate matters.
"I'm not foolish enough to get caught in a conflict-of-interest matter," Bolger said yesterday.
Federal statutes prohibit government officials from using their offices for personal gain or for the enrichment of persons with whom they have business or financial ties.
Bolger said that in April, he had instructed his private attorney to handle all job negotiations with the association and had notified Joseph Califano, the attorney for the Postal Service's Board of Governors. On May 7, Califano wrote a memo saying that Bolger was officially excusing himself from postal rate matters, but the document was shown only to the board's chairman, John R. McKean. The other board members were told that Bolger had decided to excuse himself because of an outside offer.
Board records show that in August, when the board of governors held its first discussion about the rate case, Bolger excused himself.
Bolger announced that he had "withdrawn his name" late yesterday after The Wall Street Journal reported that he was DMA's leading candidate and would be offered a contract next week.
In a statement, Bolger said his decision was not based on the newspaper story or any feeling that he had violated federal laws or ethical standards. He said he had decided last Friday to withdraw his name but because of the Labor Day holiday, was unable to notify DMA officials in New York City.
"It's my conviction that no conflict of interest exists," he said yesterday. "However, with the perception that some people had of the possible conflict of interest because of the pending rate case, I came to the conclusion that my withdrawal was in the best interest of all concerned."
By law, Bolger would not have had a vote in the postal rate decision. But as a member of the board and its top adviser, he could wield considerable influence on the decision.
The American Postal Worker Union, one of two groups deadlocked with the Postal Service over contract talks, yesterday said it had asked Congress to investigate a number of "possible conflict-of-interest" questions involving Bolger and McKean.
Before Bolger's decision was known, Union president Moe Biller had included Bolger's job negotiations with DMA on the question list. The union also called for investigation of a contract between Bolger and a San Francisco law firm hired to advise the board on labor matters. The firm was recommended by McKean and, it was reported last week, was a client of McKean's San Francisco accounting firm.