Raising a new ethics issue for Assistant Commerce Secretary Nancy Victory, a wireless company said yesterday that its lobbyist's share of a private reception in honor of the Bush administration's top telecommunications official came from corporate funds.
Federal ethics rules in certain cases allow officials to accept gifts from lobbyists who are friends, as long as the friends pay for the gift.
But in the case of the reception for Victory, SBC Communications wrote a check for approximately $480 from corporate funds in 2001 and sent it to a party organizer, company spokesman Selim Bingol said.
A Commerce Department spokeswoman said Victory was unaware that SBC had helped pay for the party and she had told the party's hosts they would have to pay for the event .
Department spokeswoman Emily Kertz said she informed the office of the Commerce Department's general counsel of the new information about SBC's payment.
SBC said earlier this week that lobbyist Priscilla Hill-Ardoin had paid for her share of the party with her own money. But the company offered a different explanation yesterday. She had "misremembered" what happened and, in fact, "the company picked up her piece of the tab," Bingol said.
Hill-Ardoin is reimbursing the company, he said.
Bingol said he did not know which party organizer the corporate check was made out to. The invitation asked that responses go to Victory's old law firm, Wiley Rein & Fielding, where Victory's husband is a partner. A Wiley Rein partner was one of the party's hosts.
Hosts of the party Oct. 14, 2001, included three lobbyists for SBC, Cingular Wireless and Motorola. The party came 10 days before Victory urged the Federal Communications Commission to make a policy change that benefited the wireless industry.
Commerce spokeswoman Kertz said that before the event, Victory was told by a department ethics officer that the party's hosts -- all friends of Victory -- would have to use their own money to pay for the party.
"Nancy took that advice and communicated it to the six hosts," Kertz said.
The Associated Press first reported on the party Monday. Victory did not report the event on her financial disclosure form, and contended that a department ethics officer told her she did not have to disclose it.
Victory is revising her ethics form to include the party.