Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Pork for Pay, Part 2

As noted here Sunday, Colorado Sen. Mark Udall and U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn have both been linked to the latest pork-for-pay scandal in Washington, appearing on a list of members who received campaign contributions from the powerhouse lobbying shop PMA Group, which shut down recently after being raided by the feds, and also backed earmarks for PMA clients.

Neither man ranks high on the list, which could serve as a Who’s Who of Congress’s most notorious pork-barrel practitioners: Udall is credited with securing $2 million in earmarks for PMA clients and receiving $6,533 in campaign contributions from PMA since 2001, while Lamborn is listed as having secured $1 million in earmarks for PMA clients and having received $1,000 in donations. But their presence there, and connection to the next big lobbying scandal in Washington, demonstrates how pervasive, and bipartisan, the earmarking racket has become.

How their involvement might be received by fiscally-conservative constituents back home is unknown, since the Colorado media has yet to report on the matter.

It’s not the first time the two have been linked to pork-for-pay, however. The Seattle Times, in some first-rate investigative reporting done last October, also attempted to connect the dots between earmarks members inserted into a Fiscal 2009 defense spending bill and donations they received from earmark beneficiaries. A searchable database compiled as part of the investigation includes this page for Lamborn and this page for Udall, which seem to bolster the case for pork-for-pay quid pro quos.

Lamborn is credited by the Times with getting $7 million in earmarks inserted into the bill, while receiving nearly $40,000 ($39,797) in campaign donations from beneficiaries. Udall is shown as backing $11.4 million in earmarks, while receiving more than $100,000 ($101,522) in donations from beneficiaries. The Times scrubbed only one major spending bill, but similar links between earmarks and campaign donations could undoubtedly be found in every major spending bill passed by Congress.

The Jack Abramoff scandal helped shine needed light on this scandal, and Democrats won a majority promising to clean up an ethics mess they laid at the feet of Republicans. The PMA scandal threatens to do to Democrats what the Abramoff affair did to Republicans.

The House is expected to decide today “whether to start an ethics investigation into the relationship between earmarks and campaign contributions,” reports CQ Politics: “The vote could put majority Democrats and at least a few Republicans in an uncomfortable spot. They will have to choose between authorizing the House ethics committee to investigate the most delicate of political relationships or publicly voting against such a probe.”

The member pushing the ethics inquiry is Arizona Rep. Jeff Flake, who’s been fighting an often lonely, largely futile battle to curtail congressional earmarking. Flake had this to say on the subject in a New York Times op-ed appearing yesterday.

“But nothing has illustrated the insidious nature of Congressional pay-to-play better than the PMA Group, a powerhouse lobbying firm that imploded this month after word got out that it was being investigated over campaign contribution indiscretions. Over the past few days we’ve learned that PMA’s clients received nearly $300 million worth of earmarks in one defense appropriations bill. In what is best described as circular fund-raising, millions of those dollars made a return trip to Capitol Hill in the form of contributions to members of Congress.

The 2009 defense appropriations bill, approved last September, contained more than 1,000 House earmarks, dozens of which were for PMA clients. There was no full committee “markup” where such links could be examined, nor were challenges to the earmarks allowed on the House floor. Further, unless it’s been hurriedly scrubbed by an alert staff member, the omnibus appropriations bill scheduled for debate this week includes many earmarks for PMA clients.

Congress has managed to avoid connecting the pay-to-play dots by looking the other way. This has been easy to do. House rules require members submitting earmark requests to certify that they have no “financial interest” in doing so. But the House ethics manual states: “A contribution to a member’s principal campaign committee or leadership PAC generally would not constitute the type of ‘financial interest’ referred to in the rule.”

Now, thanks to Rod Blagojevich and the PMA Group, perhaps the days of whistling past the Justice Department are behind us. If we think we can rely on Ethics Committee guidelines written by our colleagues to shield us from corruption investigations, we are drinking our own bathwater. We have little choice but to decouple earmarks from campaign contributions. This can be most easily done by clarifying that campaign contributions do in fact constitute “financial interest.” I’ve introduced a House resolution to do just that.”

No matter whether the ethics investigation moves forward, or how it is resolved, constituents and voters will most likely serve as the final arbiters of whether this sort of activity is something they'll tolerate from their representatives in Washington. But that requires that they demand a full explanation from Lamborn, Udall and any others in the Colorado delegation that are linked to pork for pay.

1 comment:

Michael J. Bernard said...

I bet Rod Blago is even more confused now…..he probably doesn’t understand why HE got in so much trouble but everyone else gets away with it….