WASHINGTON -- Two businesswomen whose close ties to Alexis M. Herman, President Clinton's choice for labor secretary, have raised questions about Herman's nomination, gave $150,000 to Democratic Party organizations in a string of donations last fall, Democratic Party records show.
The donations were made about the time that one of the women, Vanessa J. Weaver, took a Singapore businessman seeking approval for a $560 million satellite project to a fund-raising event where he met Clinton.
The $150,000 figure is three times what the two women, Weaver and her sister, Caryliss Weaver, had previously been reported as donating. Vanessa Weaver's consulting firm, Alignment Strategies Inc. of Potomac, Md., also gave $2,500 at the Democratic National Convention in August.
The Weavers' involvement in the satellite venture has raised new questions that could cloud Herman's chances to win Senate confirmation. White House officials acknowledged yesterday that Herman, a White House aide, put some satellite executives in touch last year with an administration official involved in setting telecommunications policies.
The lobbying on the satellite deal became an issue this week amid disclosures that Herman had invited Vanessa Weaver to the White House more than two dozen times and done other favors for her. Vanessa Weaver bought Herman's management consulting firm in 1993 and advises firms on racial diversity and other issues.
Herman also attended the Democratic Party event where the Singapore businessman, Abdul Rahman, had his photograph taken with Clinton.
A spokesman for the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee said it did not examine the satellite venture before voting to endorse Herman's nomination last week. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott said the Senate has delayed a final vote on Herman's nomination because of a dispute with Clinton over other Labor Department issues.
Joseph Lockhart, a White House spokesman, said Herman "had knowledge that Vanessa Weaver wanted to contribute" to the Democratic Party. But he also said that Herman "made no suggestions about how much to contribute or how to do it."
The Weaver consulting company contributed $2,500 to the Democratic National Committee in August, and records show that the Weavers also gave a total of $150,000 to the DNC and to Democratic organizations in California, New Jersey, Kansas and Georgia.
Jeffrey S. Fried, a lawyer working for Vanessa Weaver, agreed to make most of the donations in early October, about two weeks before the event with Clinton. He said the donations were not linked to Vanessa Weaver's work for Rahman. Fried said that Weaver made the donations for two reasons.
"She now has the financial wherewithal to do that," he said, and she "feels very strongly about supporting issues she feels passionately about." He said, for instance, that she gave to the Democratic Party in California because she opposed Proposition in California, which would ban hiring and contract preferences based on race and gender.
The satellite executives were after a lucrative telecommunications prize: the rights to place satellites in orbit that would permit cellular telephone users to place a call from anywhere on Earth.
The FCC plans to issue five licenses to build the expensive networks. In 1995, it awarded three to business consortiums, and denied licenses to three other competitors, saying they had not yet proven they could afford the projects.
Those three have been scrambling ever since to win financial and political support. One of them is a District of Columbia venture, Mobile Communications Holdings Inc., which says it would serve rural and Third World areas where pole-and-wire phone systems are too costly. The chief executive of that venture, known as Ellipso, is David Castiel, a Hispanic American, who has complained that the FCC's financial standards are biased against smaller, minority firms such as his.
Pub Date: 4/17/97