- The Washington Times - Friday, May 27, 2005

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Two days before Sen. Rick Santorum introduced a bill that critics say would restrict the National Weather Service, his political action committee received a $2,000 donation from the chief executive of AccuWeather Inc., a leading provider of weather data.

The disclosure has renewed criticism of the measure, which Mr. Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican, maintains would allow the weather service to better focus on its core mission of getting threatening weather information out in a “timely and speedy basis.”

Opponents say the bill would endanger the public by preventing the dissemination of certain weather data, and force taxpayers to pay for the data twice. The bill would prevent the weather service from competing for certain services offered by the private sector.

AccuWeather, based in State College, Pa., provides weather data to a variety of outlets, including media organizations such as the Associated Press.

“I think the timing of it is what makes it so suspect,” said Melanie Sloan, executive director of the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Government, a Democratic-leaning watchdog group. “It’s like here’s the money and you’re going to do what I want.”

Mr. Santorum said the $2,000 contribution, received from AccuWeather CEO Joel Myers on April 12, came during a fundraiser in State College that happened to be two days before the bill was filed. He said he has worked on the issue for three years.

The donation was disclosed in the April filing to the FEC by Mr. Santorum’s PAC, America’s Foundation.

“I don’t think there’s any coincidence between the two,” Mr. Santorum said. “It’s just that I happened to have a fundraiser in the town he was in.”

Combined, Joel Myers and his brother, Barry Myers, AccuWeather’s executive vice president, have donated more than $11,000 to Mr. Santorum and the Republican Party since 2003, according to FEC filings compiled by PoliticalMoneyLine, a campaign finance tracking group.

Barry Myers said it was ridiculous to think there was a correlation between the “modest” donations and the filing of the bill.

Mr. Santorum said his campaign could likely raise and spend $25 million for the 2006 election.

Dan McLaughlin, press secretary for Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, which is home to the weather service’s National Hurricane Center, said the April 12 donation is suspect. Mr. Nelson has written to President Bush in opposition to the bill.

“It certainly raises questions about motivation as to why someone would push a policy that is so obviously crummy,” Mr. McLaughlin said.

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