Columnist Pays $34G Fine for Taking Cash for Pro-Bush Agenda Op-Eds

Columnist Armstrong Williams has reached a settlement with prosecutors regarding payments he received by the Education Department to promote President Bush's agenda.

Under the settlement, Williams admits no wrongdoing but will have to pay $34,000 that prosecutors determined he had been overpaid. The deal was reached last week by Williams, the Education Department and its subcontractor, Ketchum Communications.

"The department is happy to see this matter come to a close," Katherine McLane, a spokeswoman for Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, said Sunday. "One of the first steps Secretary Spellings took when she came to office is to establish guidelines to prevent future occurrences of this type of situation."

A message left at Williams' office was not immediately returned Sunday.

Click here for more You Decide 2006 coverage.

The settlement brings to a close a yearlong investigation into the case after reports emerged that the Education Department contracted with several radio, television and print commentators to promote the No Child Left Behind Act.

Lawmakers criticized the contracts as an improper use of taxpayer dollars. Congressional auditors concluded the department engaged in illegal "covert propaganda" by hiring Williams without requiring him to disclose he was paid.

In the settlement, the Justice Department examined whether Williams actually performed the work that was promised in his $240,000 contract signed in late 2003 and cited in his monthly reports to the Education Department.

Ultimately, prosecutors determined he was overpaid $34,000. Their review did not examine whether he improperly promoted the Bush administration's agenda.

The settlement had been reported by The Washington Times and by USA Today on its Web site.