In e-mails, lobbyists perceive ties between campaign cash, earmarks

Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 6, 2010

Lobbyists and corporate officials talked bluntly in e-mail exchanges about connections between making generous campaign donations and securing federal funds through members of an important House Appropriations subcommittee, according to not-yet-public documents reviewed by ethics investigators.

In summer 2007, for example, senior executives at a small McLean defense firm tried to figure out which of them would buy a ticket to a wine-tasting fundraiser for Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.), a member of the Appropriations subcommittee on defense. At the time, the company sought help from Moran's office in securing contracts through special earmarks added to the defense bill.

In an e-mail exchange, one senior officer said he didn't understand why he had to attend the fundraiser when he didn't even drink wine.

"You don't have to drink," Innovative Concepts' chief technology officer, Andrew Feldstein, shot back in an e-mail. "You just have to pay."

"LOL," responded the other officer.

The fundraiser was hosted by the PMA Group, a powerful lobbying firm whose unusual success in obtaining "earmarked" contracts from members of the military subcommittee was a key focus of a recent House ethics investigation.

Moran raked in $91,900 in campaign checks to his personal campaign and leadership PAC that day. He secured an $800,000 earmark for Innovative Concepts in the 2008 defense appropriations bill.

The e-mails were among the documents reviewed by congressional ethics investigators over the past nine months in a wide-ranging earmarks probe. The investigation ended last week when the House ethics committee issued a report exonerating all seven members under scrutiny. The Washington Post gained access to some of those internal records.

Moran spokeswoman Emily Blout said the congressman "has no control over communications among lobbyists or with their clients regarding any false perceptions they might be operating under."

An investigation by the Office of Congressional Ethics uncovered dozens of examples of lobbyists and corporate officers expressing their belief that donations would help them. The OCE declined to share or discuss the documents reviewed by The Post. An OCE spokesman said such records would not be made public unless they directly linked donations with lawmakers' official acts.

(The OCE had recommended clearing five of the members and continuing to investigate two others, Reps. Peter J. Visclosky [D-Ind.] and Todd Tiahrt [R-Kan.]. The more senior House ethics panel cleared all seven.)

"These are hard-nosed business people," said Sarah Dufendach of Common Cause. "They are used to getting value for their dollar. The reason they keep investing their money this way is because over and over again it's proven to work for them."

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