A Dec. 25 article incorrectly identified Jim Estep, a board member of the Pennsylvania Association for Individuals With Disabilities, as the same Jim Estep who heads the West Virginia High-Technology Consortium Foundation and the Institute for Scientific Research. The Jim Estep on the board of directors of PAID is a real estate agent in Ebensburg, Pa.
Nonprofit Connects Murtha, Lobbyists
Monday, December 25, 2006
For a quarter of a century, Carmen Scialabba labored for Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), helping parcel out the billions of dollars that came through the House Appropriations Committee, so when the disabled aide needed a favor, Murtha was there.
In 2001, Murtha announced the creation of Scialabba's nonprofit agency for the disabled in Johnstown, Pa. The next year, with Scialabba still on his staff, Murtha secured a half-million dollars for the group, the Pennsylvania Association for Individuals With Disabilities (PAID), and put another $150,000 in the pipeline for 2003, according to appropriations committee records and former committee aides. Since then, the group has helped hundreds of disabled people find work.
But the group serves another function as well. PAID has become a gathering point for defense contractors and lobbyists with business before Murtha's defense appropriations subcommittee, and for Pennsylvania businesses and universities that have thrived on federal money obtained by Murtha.
Lobbyists and corporate officials serve as directors on the nonprofit group's board, where they help raise money and find jobs for Johnstown's disabled workers. Some of those lobbyists have served as intermediaries between the defense contractors and businessmen on the board, and Murtha and his aides.
That arrangement over the years has yielded millions of dollars in federal support for the contractors, businesses and universities, and hundreds of thousands in consulting and lobbying fees to Murtha's favored lobbying shops, according to Federal Election Commission records and lobbying disclosure forms. In turn, many of PAID's directors have kept Murtha's campaigns flush with cash.
When the Democrats take control of Congress on Jan. 4, ethics and budget restructuring will be the first orders of business. Among the provisions in the Democrats' ethics package are demands for more transparency in the doling out of federal funds to home-district projects and a required pledge that no earmarks benefit a member of Congress personally. That could put an uncomfortable spotlight on lawmakers such as Murtha.
"It's a real tangled web between the congressman, the nonprofit, the defense contractors and the lobbyists," said Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a nonpartisan watchdog group. "It's hard to say where one stops and the others start."
Murtha declined to respond to numerous phone calls and e-mails from The Washington Post requesting comment.
Scialabba, a former Marine whose young boxing career was cut short by polio and who relies on a wheelchair, said PAID's efforts to put a chronically underemployed population to work have rendered it above reproach. The group has provided information, training and resources to encourage businesses to hire disabled workers.
"Everyone's trying to make this a political thing, and it makes me very mad," Scialabba said last week in a brief interview, defending the collaborations. "Would you rather have tax dollars spent on some [disabled] guy sitting at home? We're not looking for handouts, damn it."
But to some watchdogs, including Taxpayers for Common Sense, Democracy 21 and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, PAID looks a lot like the cozy nexus between lawmakers, lobbyists and business interests that Democrats railed against in the midterm campaigns.
Its board of directors includes Scialabba and five government contractors who have received millions of federal dollars through appropriations measures obtained by Murtha. Its advisory council includes three lobbyists from KSA Consulting, which employs Scialabba and employed Murtha's brother, Kit. Its honorary board members include still more defense contractors.