Rep. Lee gives Democrats some oppo fodder
Republican Congressman Chris Lee of New York provided Democratic opposition researchers some welcome fodder yesterday when he withdrew an earmark request for a company that Democrats tried to use against him in his first run for Congress last year.
The move could open up Lee to the same line of attack next year.
Lee requested $3 million earmark for ITT Industries Space Systems, a division of ITT Corp. ITT specializes military grade technology, including the night vision goggles that the Army uses.
ITT also bought Lee’s family’s company two years ago for $395 million, but Lee does not own stock in ITT and would not financially benefit from the earmark.
After news of the earmark broke in the Buffalo News, Lee withdrew the earmark request Thursday evening. In a statement, Lee stressed that he didn’t violate any ethical rules with the request.
“I have no financial interest in this request, and my only interest is in helping to create jobs in Western New York and get our economy back on track,” he said. “Since there was no conflict and the project would promote economic development in Western New York, I did not hesitate to request it and post it immediately on my website to ensure full transparency and accountability.
“Despite the fact that there is no conflict, out of an abundance of caution, I am withdrawing the request to put any questions to rest and continue with my work to help grow and strengthen Western New York,” he added.
It is also worth noting that the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics told the Buffalo News that there was nothing wrong with the earmark.
“It’s not great appearancewise, but it does not benefit him or his family, so he must believe it’s good for his district,” CREW’s spokeswoman, Naomi O. Seligman, told the News. “I just don’t see where there’s any kind of scandal here.”
But, as usual, perception is politics and national Democrats couldn’t be happier that Lee is tied up with ITT again. Last year, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sought to capitalize on ITT paying a $100 million fine to the Department of Justice for exporting defense-related technical data to China, Singapore and the United Kingdom.
In an ad, the DCCC blasted Lee for the sale of his business to “a corporation he knew sent sensitive national defense technology to China.”
The Lee campaign pointed out at the time that the ITT transgression occurred six years before the the company bought the Lee family business. It also said that it was a separate division of ITT that exported the information, not the one that acquired Lee’s company.
Lee went on to defeat Democrat Alice Kryzan by a healty 55 percent to 40 percent margin in a district that Charlie Cook rates as +6 Republican – so Lee isn’t exactly vulnerable.
But, he shouldn’t be surprised if his relationship with ITT Corp. and this earmark come up again down the road.