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Members, staffers on both sides of "Chinese wall" between earmarks, fundraisers?

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By The Sunlight Foundation Reporting Group

If nothing else, Jeffrey Smith’s story in the Washington Post proves that Mark Twain’s critique of congressional investigations still holds: “One does not blindfold one’s self in order to investigate an object.” So it is in the matter of PMA Group, the lobbying group that was a top donor to members of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee who were top earmarkers for PMA Group’s clients.

The Committee on Standards of Official Conduct–better known as the House Ethics Committee–looked at the hundreds of thousands of dollars that PMA Group and its clients contributed to lawmakers and the millions that lawmakers earmarked for PMA Group clients, and concluded, “…simply because a member sponsors an earmark for an entity that also happens to be a campaign contributor does not, on these two facts alone, support a claim that a members actions are being influenced by campaign contributions.” (See page 9 of the largely unsearchable 305 page PDF the committee released.)

It appears that only an ethics committee member could come to such a conclusion. On Saturday, Carole D. Leonnig reported on emails exchanged among earmark recipients who clearly understood that campaign contributions were given to improve the chance of getting earmarks; the Ethics Committee noted that, while it “did find that there is a widespread perception among corporations and lobbyists that campaign contributions provide enhanced access to Members or a greater chance of obtaining earmarks,” that “the record indicates that Members, by and large, take great care to separate their official and campaign functions, particularly with respect to earmark requests.”

Smith’s article suggests that that “great care” consisted of having staffers who reviewed earmark requests invite the requesters to fundraisers:

Moran’s former defense aide, who now works for Boeing, similarly vetted earmarks and attended fundraisers, according to the reports, as did a military aide to Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.). “To suggest having a staffer on personal time attend his boss’s fundraiser is in some way improper is absurd,” said Tiahrt spokesman Sam Sackett.

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The Sunlight Foundation Reporting Group is part of the Sunlight Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan Washington, D.C.-based organization that uses cutting-edge technology and ideas to make government transparent and accountable.



Source: http://reporting.sunlightfoundation.com/2010/members-staffers-both-sides-chinese-wall-between-earmarks-fundra/


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