August 12, 2008

Latvia’s honorary consul in Texas, a well-known lobbyist who faces an investigation for allegedly selling access to the Bush Administration in exchange for donations to a new presidential library, has been suspended from his duties.

Stephen P. Payne’s suspension will last up to a year, the Latvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs decided July 25. Details of the decision are not public, the ministry’s press office told Latvians Online in an Aug. 12 e-mail.

Payne, who is based in Houston, serves as the honorary consul in Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and New Mexico.

Payne also is president of the lobbying firm Worldwide Strategic Partners and it is in that capacity that he has become the subject of a Congressional investigation.

U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman, a Democrat from California and chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, called for the investigation following a July 13 article in London’s The Sunday Times that claimed Payne—in a sting operation organized by the newspaper—sought a large financial donation from the former president of Kyrgyzstan. The donation would be for the forthcoming George W. Bush Presidential Center to be built at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. In return, according to the article, Payne could arrange a meeting with Vice President Dick Cheney and other officials.

In a July 14 letter to the lobbyist, Waxman asked Payne to provide details about his relationship with the library and about the solicitations he may have made.

“If true, this report raises serious concerns about the ways in which foreign interests might be secretly influencing our government through large donations to the library,” Waxman said of the newspaper’s report.

Following the Times article, Payne issued a statement denying any wrongdoing and questioning the newspaper’s methods.

“The paper and its employees, not content with merely reporting news, have instead opted to manufacture the news in this worst-case example of ‘Gotcha Journalism,’” Payne said in the statement.

Payne, who lobbied U.S. officials on Latvia’s behalf as it sought membership in the NATO defense alliance, became honorary consul in 1999. In 2004, he was awarded the Order of Three Stars, Third Class, Latvia’s highest civilian honor. Payne also is on the board of directors of the Washington, D.C.-based U.S.-Baltic Foundation.

Payne was not available for comment when his office was contacted Aug. 12.

Latvia also has honorary consuls serving Los Angeles, Cincinnati, Connecticut, Buffalo, New York City, Florida, California, Pennsylvania and Washington state. Honorary consuls do not perform consular duties, such as operating a consular register, but may represent Latvia in various events.