Ethics committee begins Shuster probe

November 14, 1997

From staff and wire reports

WASHINGTON - The House ethics committee began an investigation Friday of Pennsylvania Rep. Bud Shuster, an influential Republican whose Transportation Committee authorizes highway and mass transit programs that affect every state.

The committee acted on a complaint challenging the propriety of Shuster's personal and professional ties with Ann Eppard, a transportation lobbyist who was his congressional chief of staff for 22 years.

Closer to home, several key Republican leaders said they will stand behind Shuster and believe he will be cleared once the investigation is complete.


"Bud is a personal friend and I'll stand by him. I think that once they complete their investigation Bud will be fully exonerated," said state Sen. Terry Punt, R-Franklin.

State Rep. Patrick E. Fleagle, R-Waynesboro, said, "I have known Bud Shuster since my college days when he was first elected. I've never had a problem in any dealings I've ever had with him. I respect the man. It would be hard for me to believe he would do anything unethical, never mind unlawful."

"Bud has been extremely helpful in getting legislation through for this county and he's been a great asset to this district. They can make something out of anything," said Carl Flohr, ex-chairman of the Franklin County Republican Committee.

Under Shuster's leadership, Congress this week completed action on a $9.7 billion bill that will keep state highway programs operating for another six months.

A four-member investigative panel will be headed by Rep. Joel Hefley, R-Colo., and will include Reps. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., Jim McCrery, R-La., and Chet Edwards, D-Texas.

"I'm pleased that the committee is moving expeditiously. This is the proper procedure," Shuster said.

Ann Eppard Associates, specializing in issues before Shuster's committee, took in $1.1 million from 17 clients in 1996, House records show. Her firm had 23 active clients this year and took in $740,000 in the first six months.

Eleven clients signed up in 1997, citing the new highway bill as a subject matter for her lobbying.

Shuster last year called the complaint by the private Congressional Accountability Project a "smear campaign" and "a transparent attempt to influence" his 1996 re-election campaign. The watchdog organization was founded by congressional critic Ralph Nader.

Eppard also serves as assistant treasurer for his campaign and has provided transportation for him. She receives a $3,000-a-month consulting fee for her campaign work and has helped him raise $1.7 million since 1995, much of it from the transportation industry.

The ethics complaint grew out of Shuster's disclosure that he and his family have used Eppard's residence for overnight lodging many times. Critics say the practice violates a ban on gifts; Shuster and Eppard say the arrangement is legal because of their longtime friendship.

On another matter, Shuster has said he has not been notified of any investigation of him by the U.S. attorney's office in Boston.

According to newspaper accounts, prosecutors are investigating whether Shuster aided two campaign contributors in property disputes related to an $11 billion Boston construction project known as the "Big Dig."

Subpoenas in that matter were issued this summer to three congressional offices, including the House Transportation Committee. Shuster would not elaborate, other than to say he will fully comply.

Investigators have looked into allegations that Shuster and Eppard used campaign funds for personal use and that business deals were made with Eppard's son, Ralph, to win Shuster's help in settling the property disputes, according to the reports.

Shuster's Transportation Committee was expanded to 73 members for this Congress, making it one of the largest panels in congressional history.

He has been adept at steering federal funding to hometown projects, including the four-lane, 53-mile Bud Shuster Highway through the heart of his district and the Bud Shuster Byway bypassing Everett, the small town where he lives in south-central Pennsylvania.

Staff Writer Richard F. Belisle contributed to this story.

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