A Jan. 27 article incorrectly identified the Freshmen Political Action Committee as Rep. John E. Sweeney's leadership PAC. Sweeney is the Freshmen PAC's honorary chairman.
K Street's New Ways Spawn More Pork
Friday, January 27, 2006
An explosion of special interest funding engineered in part by lawmakers with close ties to lobbyists is drawing increased scrutiny as Congress moves to address concern about corruption that already has led to the conviction of a Republican House member and former GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
At issue is a symbiotic relationship between lawmakers well positioned to slip special-interest projects into legislation, and wealthy lobbying groups that raise large sums of campaign funds or provide trips and other benefits to those lawmakers.
In the latest example of these backstage dealings, Rep. John T. Doolittle (R-Calif.) told The Washington Post that he helped steer defense funding, totaling $37 million, to a California company, whose officials and lobbyists helped raise at least $85,000 for Doolittle and his leadership political action committee from 2002 to 2005.
Brent Wilkes, a director of the company, PerfectWave Technologies LLC, and a major contributor to House Republican leaders, was identified as "Coconspirator No. 1" in criminal charges brought against Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif.) late last year. Cunningham pleaded guilty in November and resigned from Congress after admitting he conspired to take $2.4 million in bribes in return for using his office to help Wilkes and another defense contractor, in part by placing earmarks in defense appropriations bills.
Doolittle said in a statement this week that as one of three California Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee, he frequently supports "well deserving projects throughout the state." The statement added that his support of PerfectWave Technology "was no exception and based completely on the project's merits and the written support of the military."
The link between special interests and members of Congress has grown so tight that nearly a dozen House and Senate members who control federal spending have retained lobbying veterans to raise campaign funds for them, and those lobbyists have secured lucrative favors in spending bills.
These relationships have coincided with the rapid growth in the volume of home-state pork-barrel projects, commonly called earmarks, that have swelled appropriations bills in recent years, according to congressional experts and watchdog groups.
"It's the currency of corruption," Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said of appropriations earmarks.
Since the Republicans took control of Congress in 1994, the number of home-district earmarks jumped from 4,155 valued at about $29 billion in 1994 to 14,211 worth nearly $53 billion 10 years later, according to the Congressional Research Service.
Once a backwater for boutique lobbying shops, the House and Senate Appropriations committees are fueling a lobbying boom in Washington. The hunt for earmarks has become so consuming that lawmakers are neglecting other duties, said Scott Lilly, who recently retired as chief Democratic aide on the House Appropriations Committee. Last year, the committee received 10,000 requests for home-district projects on one spending bill alone -- 25.4 projects per lawmaker, said committee spokesman John Scofield.
"It has become an obsession of the Congress," Lilly said. "That's all they do."
Traditionally, Congress has provided large pots of money to federal, state and local agencies, such as housing authorities and transportation departments, which then funded specific programs based on merit and local need. The Appropriations committees funded specific projects only when they had been vetted and approved by authorizing committees, such as the Armed Services Committee.