Perhaps Pete Visclosky may have felt safe from scrutiny as long as his pork-buddy John Murtha attracted all of the attention — from the media as well as federal investigators. With the collapse of lobbying group PMA, Visclosky finds himself exposed as a major player in PMA’s big-ticket contributions for pork projects. In fact, Visclosky may have more at stake in the federal probe of PMA than anyone, including Murtha (via Instapundit):
PMA Group was once one of the biggest lobbying firms in Washington, specializing in securing defense earmarks for its clients. Now, the firm is disintegrating amid a federal investigation into allegations that its founder, Paul Magliochetti, a former top aide to Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., steered donations to lawmakers through sham donors. …
But few lawmakers have stronger ties to the firm than [Rep. Pete] Visclosky [(D-IN)]. His former congressional chief of staff worked as a lobbyist for the firm, and he received at least $100,000 in contributions from donors tied to PMA Group between 2006 and 2008, according to Federal Election Commission reports. PMA Group was the top donor to Visclosky’s 2008 re-election campaign.
From his seat on the House Appropriations Committee and its defense funding subcommittee, Visclosky has also reciprocated — helping to secure more than $23 million in earmarks in 2008 for clients of PMA Group.
“It’s pretty clear that Visclosky has deep ties to PMA Group,” said Sheila Krumholz, executive president of the Center for Responsive Politics.
In some ways, Visclosky’s story tells a generic tale of corruption that apply to more than a few of our elected Representatives and Senators on Capitol Hill. He sits on the most powerful committee, Appropriations, which lays out the budget for the entire federal government. His vote on budgetary matters has much more influence on spending than others, which allows Visclosky to champion or kill projects at whim — and donors know it. That makes Visclosky the same as every other member of Appropriations, including the Republicans.
The question will be whether Visclosky actively sold his vote in return for contributions or personal remuneration. The feds have seized PMA’s records, which might shed some light on the question, but no one has been charged with corruption or bribery … yet. They seemed most interested in Murtha, but the sheer volume of contributions to Visclosky and his sponsorship of tens of millions of pork dollars to PMA clients in return certainly give an impression that Visclosky was available for rent, if not for sale.
Critics of porkbusters chide us for the relatively small pickings pork-barrel politics provides. The amount of money isn’t the point; it’s the influence-peddling and corruption from earmarks that is thr corrosive danger. Capitol Hill argues that it’s better to have Congress delineate spending on projects rather than faceless bureaucrats in federal agencies, but they have procurement rules imposed on their spending, including competitive bidding and conflict-of-interest restrictions that have the weight of criminal law. Earmarks bypass all of that, and allow elected officials to set up contribution machines such as PMA. In essence, they pay for their continued incumbency with our tax dollars, and regardless of how much that costs, it’s simply not democracy and it’s simply corruption.
Visclosky and his pals used PMA as an ATM machine to keep themselves in power. Until we pressure Congress to end earmarks entirely, we will continue to see this same process of cronyism and patronage, selling out our ideals for 535 government sinecures to people of both parties.