Bradley intervened for N.J. firm

By Jill Zuckman, Globe Staff, 1/12/2000

AVENPORT, Iowa - Though he says he had a ''basic policy'' as a New Jersey senator of not intervening in the federal regulatory process on behalf of any individual, Bill Bradley did just that in 1994 for a company where two officers had contributed to his campaign.

According to correspondence obtained by The Boston Globe, Bradley wrote to Commerce Secretary Ronald H. Brown ''to ask your personal assistance'' resolving a trade dispute involving the Sigma Corp. of Cream Ridge, N.J.

The size of the contributions is relatively modest - $500 apiece. And Bradley's letter certainly doesn't stand out as anything out of the ordinary in Washington political circles. But its existence appears to contradict statements he has made to the contrary.

''Go take a look,'' Bradley challenged the other day, when asked if he had written letters on behalf of contributors - letters of the sort that have drawn discomfiting news coverage to another presidential candidate, Republican Senator John McCain. McCain and Bradley have made campaign finance reform a central issue in their campaigns, even appearing together at a forum last month in Claremont, N.H., to promise to fight the special interests and unregulated money in politics.

Charles Lewis, the executive director of the Center for Public Integrity in Washington, said the letter puts Bradley on the spot.

''There's no question these presidential candidates have helped their patrons over the years,'' Lewis said. ''The point is, this is something Bradley needs to explain.''

Bradley spokeswoman Kristen Ludecke said any suggestion of a link between the contributions and the action ''is silly.''

''The letter is about making sure Sigma got a fair hearing,'' she said. ''Asking for a fair hearing for a business in your state is perfectly appropriate. I'm sure Al Gore did the same thing as a senator from Tennessee.''

Bradley told reporters this weekend that while he would not object if they culled through letters from his 18 years in the Senate, he had given his Senate papers to Princeton University's Selley Mudd Manuscript Library with the proviso that they not be made public.

Justin Harmon, a spokesman for the university, said the papers could be made available if Bradley changes his mind. ''It's not a decision for the university,'' Harmon said.

Ludecke said the campaign would not unseal the correspondence out of concern for the privacy of Bradley's constituents who had written to him.

However, the campaign is planning to file a Freedom of Information Act request to various regulatory agencies for his correspondence. The FOIA process is often a lengthy one, and the presidential nominations could be wrapped up before any letters are produced.

Bradley's 1994 letter to the Commerce Department came well after the New Jersey corporation began to have trouble with the International Trade Commission. Sigma is a private manufacturing company that makes industrial pipe fittings. It has about 50 employees and sales of $22 million last year, according to Standard & Poor's business listings.

Around 1991, according to The Dallas Morning News, the ITC imposed a 127 percent anti-dumping duty on exports to the United States by China National Metal Products. The Chinese company made key components needed by Sigma for its own products, and Sigma appealed the ruling.

The president and vice president of Sigma, Victor Pais and Mark Abrams, each contributed $500 to Bradley on March 16, 1993. Abrams has since died. Pais did not return phone calls yesterday.

After Sigma appealed the ruling to the United States Court of International Trade, the court ruled on June 3, 1994, that the case should be returned to the Commerce Department. Seven days later, Bradley wrote to Brown, asking the commerce secretary to speed up the process in reaching a decision.

''I am writing to ask your personal assistance in ensuring fair treatment for the Sigma Corporation,'' Bradley's letter said. ''Now that the case is back at Commerce, I urge you to ensure that it receives expeditious treatment.''

Bradley asked Brown to speed up the process for Sigma by not requiring the company to resubmit the same documents provided for the original case. Bradley said this would take ''months off'' the process. ''If for some reason this is not possible, I would appreciate your informing me,'' Bradley said.

In a reply dated June 17, the deputy assistant secretary for investigations, Barbara R. Stafford, told Bradley that Sigma had already agreed to the time frame involved and that the Commerce Department had only asked for new information from the company.

''We have not requested from the parties to the investigation any information that is already on the record of this case,'' she wrote.

Stafford no longer works at the Commerce Department and could not be located.

Questions about whether Bradley ever sent letters to federal agencies on behalf of donors arose after The Globe reported that McCain had written to the FCC urging the agency to vote or explain why it had not yet voted in a case that involved a major contributor to McCain. In the wake of the controversy, McCain decided to release more than 500 letters written over the past few years in his capacity as chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee.

When Bradley was asked if he had ever written similar letters, he said, ''As a senator, I had a basic policy, and that was I did not intervene in regulatory matters,'' he said.

''I would write a letter to HUD saying `Give Newark the grant,' but I did not intervene on behalf of people in a regulatory process,'' said Bradley. ''I can't think of any time I did that in the US Senate. Somebody pulls up and finds one somewhere, I'd be extremely surprised, because I had that as a basic policy.''