Saturday, March 14, 2009

Scent of Scandal has Udall Scrambling

Does Senator Mark Udall read The American Contrarian?

One almost might think so, judging from the way the freshman senator is hurriedly distancing himself from the practice of earmarking, in the wake of this blog's connecting of dots between him and the next big lobbying scandal brewing in Washington, focused on the currently-under-investigation PMA Group. The firm has strong ties to Democrats, especially Pennsylvania Rep. John Murtha -- one of the House's most prodigious porkers -- but it spread money around to Republicans as well (including local Rep. Doug Lamborn).

Most politicians with ties to the group have been scrambling to scrub off the taint.

As I first reported here Feb. 22, Udall's name appeared on a list of members of Congress who received contributions from the now-shuttered lobbying shop, and also sponsored earmarks that benefited PMA clients. And it wasn't the first time Udall's name has come up in a pork for pay context, as I pointed out in a Feb 24 post.

These revelations generated some buzz around the Colorado blogosphere, but never made the leap over to the MSM in Colorado. Other politicians' links to PMA have been news elsewhere, however. Illinois Rep. Peter Visclosky has disowned political contributions he received from the group, as have Florida Sen. Ben Nelson, who donated his PMA contributions to charity, and Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio.

Udall hasn't disavowed his contributions from PMA, as far as I know -- probably because Colorado's MSM has been so slow to pick up on the story. But he is making efforts to inoculate himself against potential political damage, and distance himself from the practice of earmarking, by vowing to go on a low pork diet.

Reported Thursday's Longmont Times-Call:

Udall puts restrictions on earmark requests

U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Eldorado Springs, will no longer accept private corporations’ and other non-government groups’ requests for earmarks in federal appropriations bills, his staff announced Wednesday.

Udall’s policy will now be to consider only those funding requests proposed by public entities in Colorado seeking federal funding, his staff said.

Udall’s staff said he’ll still encourage Colorado’s cities, counties, colleges and universities, special districts and water conservancy districts, for example, to submit proposals for possible inclusion in congressional appropriations bills.

“I believe that the appropriations process is largely broken and subject to abuse,” Udall said in a statement.

Udall and U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Denver, both voted Tuesday to advance the $410 billion spending package that President Barack Obama signed into law Wednesday.

Last year, when he was a congressman, Udall imposed a one-year moratorium on his own earmark requests. The bill signed Wednesday didn’t include any earmarks from either him or Bennet.

Udall said Wednesday that “political contributions from people or companies requesting earmarks can taint the legislative process.

“Government entities, however, are not allowed to make political donations, and government entities and officials are directly accountable to Coloradans, unlike private sector entities,” Udall added.

“On balance, it seems fair under current circumstances to appropriately fund Colorado government entities and thus directly help the people of Colorado,” Udall said.

The last thing a rising political star needs is to have his name connected to scandal. Look what the Keating 5 affair did to an up-and-coming young senator named John McCain. The Hill reports that PMA already is shaping up as potent campaign issue in 2010.

Udall obviously has been a part of the broken and abused appropriations process he now decries. His ties to the PMA Group, and links to the pork-for-pay game, make that clear. Just as John McCain became a good government gadfly after narrowly surviving the Keating 5 affair, perhaps Udall's connection to PMA is leading to this anti-earmark conversion.

But before Udall can earn redemption, he has to come clean. His new attitude toward earmarks is laudable, but he still owes Coloradans a complete explanation of his ties to PMA. And he needs to donate those tainted PMA campaign contributions to a good cause.

Just as a postscript: The House of Representatives on Feb. 24 voted down a resolution calling for an Ethics Committee probe of the PMA-pork connection. Presiding during the vote was Penn. Rep. Time Holden, a Democrat, who received more than $57,000 in campaign contributions from PMA’s political action committee from 2001 to 2008.

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