As Sen. Ted Stevens' trial begins in Washington, ABC News reviews the allegations against the Alaska Republican, who is accused of concealing some $250,000 in gifts from VECO Corp., an oil services company based in his state. Although Stevens is not charged with accepting bribes, federal prosecutors nevertheless plan to delve into the favors he allegedly has done for VECO over the years. Stevens' lawyers say the government should stay away from that area unless it is prepared to provide evidence of a quid pro quo. Prosecutors say the help VECO got from Stevens is relevant in explaining his motive for concealing the gifts, which consisted mainly of renovations to his home in Girdwood, Alaska.
But as I argued in a recent column, even if you take the charges at face value, Stevens' relationship with VECO did far less damage to the Treasury than the perfectly legal assistance he has rendered his constituents during his four decades in Congress. Add up all the alleged favors for VECO, and the amount of taxpayer money actually spent totals maybe $35 million. That's probably something like one-thousandth of the money that Stevens has proudly funneled to Alaska during his career. Federal spending there totaled $9 billion in 2006 alone.
I mentioned in my column that Republicans may be stuck with a convicted felon on the ballot in Alaska, since Stevens stands for re-election just a few weeks after his trial is expected to end. Should he win re-election even after losing the trial, The New York Times notes, Stevens' colleagues will be stuck with a convicted felon in Congress unless and until he resigns or his fellow senators vote to force him out.