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  •   Easy Street

    Page Three of Four

    His first big success came in 1976, when he got $25 million earmarked for a "demonstration project" in his district. In those days, earmarking – directing funds to a specific enterprise – was quite rare; most highway money was distributed to the states according to a formula. This project was intended to demonstrate a new and faster means of road-building, and it did that: In three years, or three times faster than the average highway project of similar scope in the state, a 4.6-mile bypass was built around Shuster's adopted home town of Everett. It was named the Bud Shuster Bypass.

    In 1982, he had the down payment earmarked on a $287 million project to transform narrow U.S. Route 220 into a four-lane highway that would connect Altoona to the Pennsylvania Turnpike to the south and Interstate 80 to the north. This 53-mile highway – I-99 on your interstate map – brought Altoona into the Concrete Age and helped revitalize the economy of the 9th District. Even with 28 more miles to go, it is the most important of Shuster's achievements, and it is named the Bud Shuster Highway.

    As the '80s progressed, he supported funding for an airport in Bedford County, about 15 minutes from the Shuster farm. (It is named the Bedford County Airport.) More money followed: $10 million earmarked for a bypass in Loysburg, $50 to $60 million for sewage treatment in Altoona. He also pressed the Army Corps of Engineers to build a hydroelectric plant on a man-made lake used for flood control and recreation near Lewistown.

    With the 1991 highway bill, Shuster achieved an apotheosis of sorts: He increased Pennsylvania's take from the federal highway trust funds and had so much money earmarked for so many projects in his district – road widenings, pedestrian crossings, new buses, access roads, interchanges and the Bud Shuster Highway – that other legislators were getting jealous. When reporters asked Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) which state had received the most in targeted funds, he replied: "The state of Altoona."

    Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) was not amused. He complained publicly – without naming Shuster – that House transportation projects were "little piglets" that had grown into "giant hogs." When he complained about earmarks again in 1994, Shuster threatened to cut off funding for 14 Florida demonstration projects worth more than half a billion dollars. Graham walked across the Capitol grounds to straighten things out. An aide to Graham said the senator did not offer an apology; Shuster's account differed. "When he groveled," he told a Gannett News Service reporter, "I blinked."

    As Shuster's power grew, so too did his capacity to raise campaign money. Certainly this was inherent in his position as a player on one of the biggest-spending committees in Congress. But he and Eppard also worked at it, and Eppard was far more aggressive than Shuster. The congressman says that on more than one occasion, a donor handed Eppard a check and she immediately handed it back, saying, "That's not enough." She says this tendency is "part of my Irish personality . . . Shuster's a perfectionist, and he demands perfection from his staff. And certainly I wanted to work hard to exceed that expectation."

    Between 1979 and 1990, Eppard routinely contacted a top official of the New Enterprise Stone and Lime Co. – the largest highway construction firm in Pennsylvania, and a firm that was working on the Shuster Highway – to solicit contributions to Shuster's campaign, according to Federal Election Commission documents. Throughout that period, according to the documents, the company and a subsidiary secretly reimbursed its officers and employees for $80,000 in campaign contributions they made to Shuster's campaign committee, which is a violation of federal election law. The company acknowledged its wrongdoing and agreed to pay $150,000 in civil penalties in 1995 – the largest settlement of its kind in FEC history.

    "Our business depended on a lot of things that [Shuster] was in favor of or promoted," says Ronald E. Detwiler, a New Enterprise official. Neither Eppard nor Shuster was implicated in the scheme. "I was sick," says Eppard. "I was sick to my stomach" when she read press accounts of the matter. "The first thing I did was call the FEC and ask them what to do."

    Overall, contributions to Shuster's campaigns increased sixfold from 1976 to 1992, rising from $88,297 to $556,384. One-third to one-half of those funds came from political action committees – primarily those of general contractors and builders. Another major donor was the billboard industry.

    Shuster has accepted donations and speaking fees from the Outdoor Advertising Association of America since the late 1970s, when he argued, successfully, that billboard owners were entitled to full restitution for signs taken by eminent domain. During the first six months of 1991, industry executives pumped $90,000 into Shuster's campaign – nearly 80 percent of his contributions from individuals at that point – while he led a fight against a bill that would have banned new billboards and removed some without compensating the owners. According to Scenic America, an anti-billboard group, the industry contributed a total of $240,000 to Shuster's campaigns between 1990 and 1996 – far more than it contributed to any other member of Congress.

    With such well-funded campaigns, and with Shuster's district benefiting so much from his earmarkings, opposition to him withered. After 1984 – the year he crushed Democrat Nancy Kulp, the actress who had played Miss Jane Hathaway on "The Beverly Hillbillies" – he ran unopposed for a decade.

    Still, he raised and spent campaign money. The spending was not always on the sort of comforts detailed by the Philadelphia Inquirer or the Los Angeles Times – the hotel stays, the airplane charters, the restaurant meals. The campaign also spent money while Shuster was in Washington. In one respect, Eppard says, it's a disadvantage to represent a district so close to Washington, because it's easier for constituents and political allies to visit. And when they do, they have to be attended to, whether that means taking them out to dinner or presenting them with plaques. In any case, the campaign pays.

    Shuster and Eppard were also generous to congressional staffers, frequently sending out for Mexican food and Popeye's fried chicken or treating them to meals away from the office or on business trips to the district – all of which were charged to the campaign. Shuster and Eppard also dipped into the campaign coffers to pay for groceries at the Giant and for dinners at the Hyatt Regency's Capitol View Club, the Ritz-Carlton in Arlington and other local restaurants.

    Since 1991, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer's analysis, the Shuster campaign has spent $20,000 at the Sutton Place Gourmet in Alexandria and another $20,000 at the Alexandria Pastry Shop and Cafe. On a single day – July 10, 1991 – the campaign reported expenses of $162 at Sutton Place Gourmet, $299 at Red Hot & Blue in Arlington and $254 at the Alexandria Pastry Shop. At other times, the campaign has reported expenses of $640 at the Tortilla Coast restaurant in Washington, $46.25 at Clyde's in Vienna and $5.99 at the Everett Foodliner, a supermarket in Shuster's home town. In 1995, the campaign spent $286 for dry cleaning at the Presto Valet in Alexandria.

    To suggestions that she and Shuster were essentially living off the campaign, Eppard says, "I'm telling you that's not the case. I'm comfortable with how the money is spent. I'm not going to change it."

    While she was working for Shuster, Eppard had relatively little money of her own. As a single parent whose annual congressional salary ranged from $67,000 to $110,000 over the past decade, Eppard says, she borrowed heavily from her government retirement fund to pay for her son's college education. In 1995, she told a reporter, "I'm a woman with five Visa cards."

    Early in the 1994 campaign season, she sounded out friends, colleagues, lobbyists and relatives about the wisdom of retiring from her congressional job and setting up shop as a lobbyist. During her 21 years on the Hill, Eppard had spent a lot of time around lobbyists and industry executives who were earning five or 10 times as much as she was. "There were people that I had known for years that said, `Hey, if you're going to set up a company, let us hire you.' I didn't do anything differently than anyone else."

    That year, the Republicans had high hopes of wresting control of Congress for the first time in 40 years. If they did, Shuster would be in line for a committee chairmanship. But as Eppard approached her career decision that summer, there was no telling how the election would turn out that November.

    With Shuster's blessing, Eppard filed her retirement papers September 30 and left his staff in November, right after the election, and just before Shuster became "Mr. Chairman."

    That December, Shuster attended an event he had avoided for years. The Pennsylvania Society's annual dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York is an extravagant ritual that dates to the heyday of the Carnegie and Mellon families; it draws large numbers of businessmen and politicians. It is the kind of oversize gala that makes Shuster a little uncomfortable.

    But now that he was going to be the chairman, he went. That weekend, Shuster and his entourage incurred bills of $2,899 for rooms at the Waldorf, $682 for meals at the Plaza Hotel and nearly $300 for limousine service. The Shuster campaign paid them all.

    (continued on Page Four)


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