At least three times in his Senate career, Democratic presidential hopeful John Kerry (search) has recommended individuals for positions at federal home loan banks just before or after receiving political contributions from the nominees, records show.
In one case, Kerry wrote to the Federal Housing Finance Board (search) to urge the reappointment of a candidate just one day before a Kerry campaign committee received $1,000 from the nominee, the records show.
"One has nothing to do with the other," said Marvin Siflinger (search), who contributed around the time of Kerry's Oct. 1, 1996, recommendation that he be reappointed for another term to the board.
Kerry's office, like the nominees, insists the timing of the donations and the nominations was a coincidence.
"Sen. Kerry recommends dozens of very qualified individuals each year without regard to their politics or contributions. In this case each of the individuals were highly qualified for the jobs they were appointed to and served with distinction," spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter said.
"John Kerry is grateful for their support, and we should be thanking them for their service, not questioning it," she added. "The timing of the contributions was completely circumstantial."
But a longtime government watchdog says it is common for Washington appointees to donate just before or after they are nominated.
"This is just business as usual in Washington," said Larry Noble, the former chief lawyer for the Federal Election Commission who now heads the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. "Kerry is out there saying he is not being part of that game, yet he is the product of the same money system."
With Kerry more vocally portraying himself on the presidential campaign trail as an opponent of special interest money in Washington, scrutiny of his dealings with donors and special interests has increased among his rivals and the news media.
Noble said while Kerry long has advocated campaign finance reform, he also has benefited from the big money system he now distances himself from on the campaign trail. "It's like a game where you say the people who support me just want good government, but the people who support my opponent are special interests," he said.
When he first ran for the Senate, Kerry promised voters he would carefully choose nominees on merit.
"I will act as a persistent watchdog over presidential appointments to ensure that only people of integrity, ability and commitment hold positions of power in our national government," Kerry wrote in a June 1984 fund-raising appeal.
All three of the people Kerry recommended got the positions they sought on various boards of Federal Home Loan Banks in Boston and New York that provide money for home mortgages.
Kerry's recommendations went to the five-member Federal Housing Finance Board, the regulatory body that votes on the final selections. Recommendations come from members of Congress, the White House and trade associations.
Siflinger, who was a state housing finance official when Kerry was Massachusetts lieutenant governor, was first appointed to the bank board in Boston during President George H.W. Bush's presidency and in 1996 sought Kerry's help to get reappointed.
"You normally seek the support of prominent people who are respected. Certainly in this instance I sought the support of Senator Kerry and I sought support of other members of the congressional delegation," Siflinger said in an interview Thursday.
Siflinger made his first donation to Kerry's Senate campaign committee in 1995 more than a year before his reappointment, according to Federal Election Commission records. His most recent donation to Kerry was several weeks ago, Siflinger said.
Investment banker Derek Bryson Park says it's "pure happenstance" that he made a pair of $1,000 donations to Kerry a month before the senator's Dec. 29, 1998, letter recommending Park for a position at the Federal Home Loan Bank of New York.
"I got assistance from both ... Democrats and Republicans" in attaining the bank board post, Park said.
The only political donations Park made to federal candidates around the period of his appointment were to Kerry, according to FEC records.
"I've been fortunate to be invited to Senator Kerry's home and we've had a number of meals together and get-togethers," said Park, who got to know Kerry through a longtime supporter of the senator.
Former congressional staffer Patrick Dober said that "there's absolutely no relationship" between his $408 donation nearly three months after Kerry's Oct. 9, 1998, recommendation to the federal bank board. Kerry's letter praised Dober for having "worked closely with my office" on "the banking crisis in the early 1990s."
At the time, Dober worked for Boston Capital, a real estate financing and investment firm co-founded by Kerry supporter Jack Manning. Manning, who has donated more than $800,000 to the Democratic causes over the past 14 years, gave $65,000 in 2001 and 2002 to a tax-exempt political group Kerry set up.
Dober says he thinks his $408 for tickets to a Kerry fund-raiser is the only contribution he's ever made to Kerry.
"There was a fund-raiser for Kerry and they had James Taylor and Robin Williams playing," Dober recalled. "My wife and I said this looks like fun. The tickets were a hundred bucks and a $2 service charge, so my wife and I went with another couple and I wrote the check."