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Garrett claims Gottheimer’s under investigation over ‘pay for play’ allegations

November 2, 2016 GMT

In a campaign that has seen its share of nasty accusations – from assaulting a woman to consorting with domestic terrorists – pay to play and bribery can now be added to the list.

Fifth District Rep. Scott Garrett, a seven-term incumbent fighting to retain his seat, fired the opening salvo Tuesday with a press release claiming that his opponent, Democrat Josh Gottheimer, was being investigated by the U.S. Senate over “pay for play” allegations.

The claim stems from a controversy dating back more than four years, when Gottheimer was senior counselor to the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. LightSquared, a company hoping to build a national wireless broadband network, sought a conditional waiver from the FCC and was approved.

Sen. Charles Grassley, a Republican from Iowa, questioned at the time whether Gottheimer had any role in the consideration of LightSquared’s proposed network, as his former employer, public relations firm Burson-Marsteller, represented the company.

Garrett’s campaign said that Grassley was currently investigating the matter.

An aide to the senator was unaware of an investigation Tuesday and said he would look into the matter. Gottheimer’s camp, meanwhile, denied the allegations.

“There was no investigation, and the FCC unequivocally determined there was no conflict,” said Gottheimer’s spokesman, Ryan Jacobs.

A spokesman for the FCC said the agency’s ethics team had determined that LightSquared was not one of Gottheimer’s clients while he was employed at Burson-Marsteller. The firm also did not participate in any “relevant” FCC proceedings, he said.

“Therefore, Mr. Gottheimer’s participation in LightSquared matters at the commission raised no ethical concern,” the spokesman said Tuesday.

The FCC later suspended the waiver over concerns that LightSquared’s network would affect GPS services, and the company went bankrupt. It officially exited bankruptcy in December, according to Reuters.

In response to Garrett’s allegations, Gottheimer’s campaign fired off a release of its own accusing his Republican opponent of taking bribes from payday lenders.

The accusation stems from a complaint filed last year by the watchdog group Campaign for Accountability. In its complaint, the group accuses Garrett and 10 other House members, two of them Democrats, of taking actions to protect the payday loan industry around the same time they received campaign contributions.

The complaint cites $3,500 in contributions Garrett received between March 2011 and October 2013. The watchdog group claimed that in both years, the contributions were made within weeks of an official act Garrett took that would have protected payday lenders from government scrutiny.

In response, Garrett’s communications director said last year that the congressman had based his decisions on “his principles and what is best for hardworking New Jersey families who are trying to reach their financial goals.”

The watchdog group requested that the Office of Congressional Ethics investigate whether House rules and criminal law had been violated. Gottheimer’s campaign said there was an ongoing investigation into the matter. But a spokesperson for Garrett’s campaign said Tuesday the complaint “never went anywhere,” indicating there was no evidence to support the allegations.

“So there’s no investigation,” the spokesperson said. “A bogus complaint and that’s it.”

Neither assertion could be independently verified Tuesday.

Email: lueddeke@northjersey.com