Washington Babylon — October 20, 2009, 11:36 am

Oink: News from the federal pork investigation

The Washington Post reported over the weekend on the ongoing federal investigation into defense earmarks, saying that it was “increasingly focused on a former top aide to Rep. Peter J. Visclosky (D-Ind.) who worked with the congressman on funding requests from clients of a powerful lobbying firm, according to two sources familiar with the probe.” The story said that the aide, Charles E. Brimmer, Visclosky’s former longtime chief of staff, may have “suggested to some lobbyists that companies seeking Visclosky’s help in getting Pentagon funds would need to commit to a program of donations to the member of the Appropriations defense subcommittee. The Justice Department is trying to determine whether Brimmer’s proposal constituted quid pro quo, an illegal act in which a public official requests something of value in exchange for an official action.”

I’ve reported extensively on Visclosky over the past few years, as well as on Congressman John Murtha, who investigators are also scrutinizing. A lobbyist I spoke to offered interesting insights into how those two congressional pork kings operate, and specifically confirmed that Visclosky’s office made an obvious connection between donations and earmark requests. The lobbyist said that both Brimmer and Rich Kaelin, former appropriations committee assistant, legislative director, and chief of staff to Visclosky who went on to work at a powerful firm called PMA, “were very clear that the more money you raised, the more [earmarks] you’d get.” He added:

Visclosky would hold small fundraising dinners when a bill was moving through congress, and lobbyists would arrange those dinners. It was pretty obvious that people who went got more funding in the bill than people who didn’t. They’d have two small tables and Visclosky would sit at one and [a top appropriations staffer] would sit at the other, and halfway through they’d switch tables so you got face time with both. Murtha operated the same way. I’d get calls from Susan O’Neill [Murtha's chief fundraiser] and she’d say, “You committed to $50,000 and you only came up with $20,000. When can we expect the rest?” I’m not sure that’s illegal but it sure is uncomfortable.

I also found an interesting connection between Murtha and the National First Ladies’ Library in Canton, Ohio. The library has obtained vast amounts of pork over the years, with former GOP congressman Ralph Regula generally being pointed to at the leading sponsor. “[Regula's] wife founded the museum and [his] daughter runs it,” said a story from 2007. “Regula has requested hundreds of thousands of federal dollars for the museum since 1991, when he persuaded the National Park Service to pay $1.1 million for its headquarters.”

But Murtha has been a major backer as well, which is not surprising since his wife, Joyce, is the library’s vice president. Indeed, the library has been something of a pet cause for Murtha. One lobbyist who has sought defense money from Murtha sent a note, which I obtained, to another lobbyist who was looking for money from the congressman as well. “If you want to influence Joyce Murtha,” the note said coyly, “you can by donating to this program.” The note was sent attached to the brochure of the First Ladies’ Museum.

Share
Single Page

More from Ken Silverstein:

From the November 2013 issue

Dirty South

The foul legacy of Louisiana oil

Perspective October 23, 2013, 8:00 am

On Brining and Dining

How pro-oil Louisiana politicians have shaped American environmental policy

Postcard October 16, 2013, 8:00 am

The Most Cajun Place on Earth

A trip to one of the properties at issue in Louisiana’s oil-pollution lawsuits 

Get access to 164 years of
Harper’s for only $39.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

February 2015

The War of the World

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Sharp Edge of Life

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Great Republican Land Heist

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Captive Market

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Day of the Sea

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
The Great Republican Land Heist·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“The wholesale transfer of public lands to state control may never be achieved. But the goal might be more subtle: to attack the value of public lands.”
Photograph by Chad Ress
Article
The Sharp Edge of Life·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“The struggle of the novelist has been to establish a measure, a view of human nature, and usually, though not always, as large a view as belief and imagination can wring from observable facts.”
Photo by Eddie Adams/Associated Press
Article
Captive Market·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"Fear of random violence lives on, but the reality is that violent-crime rates have dropped to levels not seen since the early Seventies."
Photograph by Richard Ross
Article
The Day of the Sea·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Fifteen judges will then sit together in a wood-paneled room, in a city thousands of miles from the Andes, and decide whether the ocean Bolivia claims as its right will at last be returned to it.”
Photo by Fabio Cuttica/Contrasto/Redux
Post
Introducing the February Issue·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Ruin of the West
Christopher Ketcham investigates Cliven Bundy’s years-long battle with the BLM, Annie Murphy reflects on Bolivia’s lost coast, and more
Painting by Richard Prince, whose work was on view in October at Gagosian Gallery in New York City © The artist. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

Percentage increase in the annual number of polio cases in Pakistan since 2005:

857

A bowl of 4,000-year-old noodles was found in northwestern China; and a spokesman for the Chinese Academy of Sciences said that “this is the earliest empirical evidence of noodles ever found.”

A federal judge sentenced the journalist Barrett Brown to 63 months in prison for sharing a link to information stolen from the private-intelligence firm Stratfor by a hacker in 2011. “Good news!” Brown said in a statement. “They’re now going to send me to investigate the prison-industrial complex.”

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

In Praise of Idleness

By

I hope that after reading the following pages the leaders of the Y. M. C. A. will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived in vain.

Subscribe Today