Rep. Flake takes earmark fight beyond PMA

Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) is broadening his earmark fight to take on House ethics rules regarding campaign contributions.

Flake forced the ethics committee to publicly launch an earmarks probe into the link between campaign contributions and the now-defunct PMA Group by offering nine resolutions demanding an investigation.

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And ever since the FBI raided the lobbying firm’s offices earlier this year, Democratic leaders have been under pressure to address the apparent link between earmarks and campaign contributions. Three senior Democrats on the appropriations panel, Reps. Pete Visclosky (Ind.), John Murtha (Pa.) and Jim Moran (Va.), have doled out millions of dollars for PMA clients, and both the firm and its clients have showered the trio with campaign donations.

Each time Flake has offered the resolution, more Democrats defected to support it. Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) recently offered his own resolution calling on the ethics committee to disclose whether it was investigating the PMA matter. Late last week, the ethics committee publicly acknowledged that it had launched a probe.

Earlier Thursday Flake submitted to the Rules Committee an amendment to the legislative branch appropriations bill that would prevent any money in the bill from being used by the ethics committee to implement its guidance that campaign contributions do not constitute a “financial interest.”

The most ardent opponent of pork-barrel politics in the House, Flake wants the ethics committee to change its rules regarding what constitutes a “financial interest” when it comes to earmark certification letters. In essence, he argues, campaign contributions a member receives should be considered “financial interest” in light of the recent pay-to-play political corruption scandals.

Last year, Democratic leaders instituted changes to the earmark rules to address concerns about the potential for personal corruption posed by earmarks. The changes required lawmakers requesting earmarks to sign a letter certifying that they and their families have no “financial interest” in the entity receiving the earmark.

Usually there are very few amendments to the legislative branch spending bill, so Flake believes Democrats will have a tough time denying the amendment’s inclusion. If it's included, the amendment would force lawmakers to vote on whether or not they believe the relationship between campaign contributions and earmarks ought to be severed, according to Flake’s spokesman.

Two weeks ago, Flake submitted a lengthy white paper to the ethics committee arguing for changing the rules to include campaign contributions in what constitutes a financial interest.

The House Rules Committee will meet Thursday at 3 p.m. to consider amendments to the legislative branch spending bill. The House is scheduled to vote on the measure Friday.