SEC Opens Investigation of Company Headed by Key Supporter of Clintons

By Matthew Mosk
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 22, 2007; A03

The Securities and Exchange Commission has launched an investigation into InfoUSA, a Nebraska company that used corporate funds to fly Hillary Rodham Clinton around the country, and one of only two companies to put Bill Clinton on its payroll after he left the White House.

The firm, a major provider of database-processing services, disclosed little about the nature of the probe in a filing to shareholders released yesterday.

The two-sentence filing said only that InfoUSA received a letter last week "informing the Company that the SEC is conducting an informal investigation . . . and is requesting the voluntary production of documents relating to related party transactions, expense reimbursement, other corporate expenditures and certain trading in the Company's securities."

Calls to an InfoUSA spokesman were not returned. Mark C. Hansen, a Washington lawyer for the company's founder, Vinod Gupta, did not return calls late yesterday. Nor did an official in the SEC's Denver office, where the probe was initiated.

Two sources familiar with the company's troubles suggested that investigators would focus their attention on executives' use of company money to feather their own nests. Gupta has been a major financial supporter of the Clintons since he met the president in the mid-1990s. Gupta and his company donated $1 million to help underwrite a lavish year 2000 New Year's Eve celebration at the White House and on the Mall.

He paid the former president $200,000 to deliver a speech to InfoUSA executives in Papillion, Neb., and signed the former president to a $3.3 million consulting deal. For the past four years, both Clintons have used Gupta's corporate plane, flying to Switzerland, Hawaii, Jamaica and Mexico -- about $900,000 worth of travel, The Post reported in May.

Earlier this year, the company's spending on the Clintons gave rise to a shareholder lawsuit complaining that hiring the former president was a "waste of corporate assets."

The Clintons are not parties to the lawsuit, nor are they accused of any wrongdoing.

Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign declined comment last night, referring reporters instead to a Delaware court's ruling in August that allowed the shareholder lawsuit to proceed against InfoUSA on two of the five original allegations. Among the allegations dismissed by the court was one asserting that Clinton's consulting contract was a waste of money.

The chancery court stated in that ruling that while some stock options granted to Bill Clinton may have been approved improperly, the shareholders had failed to prove his consulting arrangement was a waste of money. "Indeed, the company has estimated that the relationship with former President Clinton might be responsible for up to $40 million in sales," the court wrote.

The court, however, said it was possible that shareholders could make a legal issue out of the Clinton flights.

Clinton campaign officials said earlier this year that she has reimbursed InfoUSA for flights she took.