Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Arizona Controversy Swirls Around Watts

Former Congressman J. C. Watts is not a candidate this year, but he finds himself smack in the middle of a raging Republican primary for the U. S. Senate in Arizona.

The campaign of Senator John McCain's challenger, former Congressman J. D. Hayworth, has identified Watts as the man who talked Hayworth into videotaping a commercial for a shady company, National Grants Conferences.

The firm, which has filed for bankruptcy, is accused of luring consumers to the free seminar, then using high-pressure sales tactics to persuade them to spend hundreds of dollars for access to information that is readily available online or at a public library.

Hayworth is introduced as a former member of Congress who served on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee.

"You may think what you've heard is too good to be true," he says. "But let me assure you: It is real, it's available, and it's something you should take advantage of."

But it is too good to be true, according to consumer rights advocates. Much of the supposedly free government money is intended for small businesses and nonprofits and is nearly impossible for individuals to get.

The Better Business Bureau gives National Grants Conferences an F rating, citing a pattern of complaints about misleading costs. The organization reports 230 complaints against the company in the last three years.

The Vermont attorney general sued the company in 2006 saying it was marketing a federal grants program without evidence that it works, and that it used consumer testimonials without proper disclosure that the results were atypical.

The company settled nine months later, agreeing to offer more than $325,000 in consumer refunds, pay a $65,000 fine and change its advertising practices.

Consumer complaints and newspaper articles have been warning about the company as far back as 2000, long before Hayworth became a pitchman.

Watts apparently worked for the firm both as a pitchman and lobbyist, reports indicate. He videotaped a commercial before talking Hayworth into appearing in the one that's drawing fire.
The controversy has attracted national attention; CBS News and USA Today are among those with reports.

Share |