In recent media coverage, a congressional mover-and-shaker and a back-bench congressional time-server each spoke out on earmarks. Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA) and Rep. Tim Holden (D-PA) both commented favorably on the practice and criticized the congressional moratorium on earmarks. There is a very interesting contrast in their approach to the moratorium that may be attributed to the relative status of the two members in the House. Moran is in his eleventh term, Holden his tenth. Moran is an appropriator. Holden is not.
Rep. Jim Moran appeared on C-SPAN's "Washington Journal" program:
In response to a question about whether earmark bans have "curtailed" the Appropriations Committee's power, Moran responded, "No, and I have to say - and I'm going to be as candid as possible - the appropriators are going to be okay because we know people in agencies and so on. We will continue to do the best job we can for the country and to some extent for our congressional districts because that's our job as well."
In other words, Moran and other influential members will make "telephone" earmarks by strong arming bureaucrats in federal agencies to do their bidding. Such pressure from appropriators is very persuasive in Washington. Telephone earmarks, however, establish quid pro quos obligating members whose personal interests are served in this fashion to the executive branch which controls the agencies. The practice effectively cedes a measure of power to the executive branch by giving those who control it influence over individual legislators.
Rather than resorting to mutual extortion, Rep. Holden, on the other hand, insists that he and other legislators are personally entitled to earmark our tax money. His case is at least partially based on what he perceives as tradition in his home region.
"I grew up in the same media market you did and watched Joe McDade and Dan Flood bringing the money home," Holden said of the controversial practice. "I thought that's what congressmen were supposed to do."
Holden invokes quite a legacy. Both McDade and Flood were indicted for accepting bribes, and Flood was censured by the 96th Congress. Flood pleaded guilty in court to one count of bribery, received a suspended sentence, and resigned from Congress in January, 1980. Though later acquitted, McDade was charged with racketeering and conspiracy after allegedly accepting gifts and trips in exchange for diverting government contracts to special interests, including some with mob connections. This account of McDade's acquittal is entertaining.
Presumably, if earmarks are resumed, the McDade/Flood legacy isn't out of Holden's reach. Unlike his regional predecessors, a search reveals no park, hiking trail, airport terminal or any other public works named for him -- yet -- but Holden wants to continue to play traffic cop for tax money we don't have and which unborn taxpayers haven't yet earned.
In fact, Holden and Moran share a connection to arguably one of the all-time most corrupt lobbying organizations in Washington, the PMA Group. PMA's founder and president, Paul Magliocchetti,, was recently convicted of making hundreds of thousands of dollars of illegal campaign contributions, sentenced to 27 months in federal prison for the campaign finance scheme and fined $75,000.
Government prosecutors allege that Magliocchetti directed family members to make contributions to lawmakers, and then paid them back. He also is said to have instructed PMA employees to make political contributions, and then repaid them with either personal or company funds.
Prosecutors say that the PMA founder also recruited two acquaintances in Florida to write checks to candidates and then reimbursed them by writing personal or company checks.
The Floridians... were listed as PMA associates and members of the PMA board of directors since 2005. The two men, however, were not involved in defense lobbying and were not seen as political players despite their checks to politicians.
The four largest recipients of PMA Group funds, all of whom received contributions from every illegal PMA source, were the late John Murtha (D-PA), a former defense appropriations chairman, the new chairman in the last Congress, Rep. Norm Dicks (D-WA), and appropriations committee members Reps. Jim Moran (D-VA) and Pete Visclosky (D-IN).
The fifth largest recipient of PMA Group funds? Representative T. Timothy Holden (D-PA), the only non-appropriator in the top five, also received campaign funds from all of the Magliocchetti sources.
If contributions to Holden's campaigns by owners and executives of former PMA Group clients are added to his PMA funds, Holden received almost $150,000 in the years Open Secrets documents. During that time frame, Holden earmarked more than $15 million for the same former PMA clients, a huge return on their investments. Most of the earmarked funds were spent outside Holden's district. Not to worry, though, earmarks are legal.
The influence of earmarks on legislation, incumbency and their attendant problems are well documented. Earmarking members of Congress count on the ignorance, inattention, indifference, and, sometimes, the greed of state and district voters to pull off this scam. They use their involvement in the procurement and delivery of federal funds to get favorable publicity, buy votes for reelection and attract campaign contributions. The House Ethics Committee is to good government what the lottery is to sound financial planning, but maybe someone should refer the quote that Rep. Tim Holden gave to The (Allentown, Pa.) Morning Call for some scrutiny. Like many lawmakers, Holden secured an earmark for a contributor to his campaigns; thanks to the APME's earmark project, he was also asked about it:
He scoffed at the suggestion that the company's contributions to his campaign may have led to favorable treatment in return. ''Who is going to contribute to your campaign, people you don't help?'' Holden said, before adding: ''There is no quid pro quo here.''
Quids and quos but never a pro...