Rep. Frelinghuysen delivers earmarks for ex-aide’s firm

As House Republicans hit Democrats over pet projects and strong ties to lobbyists, one of their own is openly requesting earmarks for clients of a firm managed by his former chief of staff.

Rep. Rodney FrelinghuysenRodney Procter FrelinghuysenThe 31 Trump districts that will determine the next House majority Top House GOP appropriations staffer moves to lobbying shop Individuals with significant disabilities need hope and action MORE (R-N.J.), the ranking member of the House Appropriations Energy and Water Development subcommittee and a defense appropriator, has requested at least 12 earmarks for companies and entities represented by Winning Strategies that combined are worth approximately $40 million.
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Donna Mullins, the managing partner at Winning Strategies, is Frelinghuysen’s former chief of staff. Her detailed bio on the Winning Strategies website does not say for whom she worked on Capitol hill. Mullins “actively participates in developing the plan of action for every Winning Strategies client,” according to her bio.

It appears that Mullins’s firm is on the winning side, at least in the first phase of the appropriations process. Out of 18 earmark requests for companies or entities that have hired lobbyists in Washington, 12 of them are for clients of Winning Strategies. The requests have yet to be included in any legislation, and the House is just beginning the appropriations process.

Three of the earmark requests alone — for a total of $9 million — are for one of Frelinghuysen’s more generous campaign donors, the Stevens Institute of Technology, a client of Winning Strategies. Winning Strategies, meanwhile, was one of Frelinghuysen’s top five campaign donors in the 2008 election, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Mullins has donated $13,600 to Frelinghuysen’s campaign since 2003.

Frelinghuysen’s earmarks requests are legitimate under House rules, as are the actions of Winning Strategies and its clients. Frelinghuysen says that his requests serve the interests of voters back home in New Jersey.

Yet the success of one lobbying company in scoring earmarks in the appropriations process highlights the power of the revolving door — staffers leave Capitol Hill and then cash in on their connections, said Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a nonpartisan watchdog organization.

“People with very tight connections are able to deliver for their clients,” Ellis said. “Unfortunately, the pattern is not — by any of the rules that Congress has — wrong.”

The requests for the Winning Strategies clients stand out among a long list of requests Frelinghuysen made for the Army Corps of Engineers and the Army’s Picatinny Arsenal, based in New Jersey. Many members this year have refrained from asking for earmarks for too many private companies with lobbying firms in Washington.

The Winning Strategies clients that are receiving Frelinghuysen’s attention are:

•Drew University — $1 million for research and curricula enhancements;

•Fairleigh Dickinson University — $800,000 to expand access to the Latino Education Pipeline;

•Frontier Performance Polymers — $2 million for advanced multifunctional lightweight materials;

•Honeywell — $2 million for ink-based desktop electronic materials;

•New Jersey Institute of Technology — $3 million for nano advanced cluster energetics;

•New Jersey Transit — $10 million for public transportation improvements;

•Somerset Medical Center — $1.5 million for improving patient safety;

•State of New Jersey — $7 million to acquire four tracts of land in Jefferson and Rockaway townships;

•State of New Jersey — $2.5 million to protect 1,144 acres in Sparta and Jefferson Township;

•Stevens Institute of Technology — $3 million to enhance the Army’s ability to accelerate the fielding of new technology critical to ongoing military operations;

•Stevens Institute of Technology — $3 million to develop technologies to reduce the environmental impact of Army armaments;

•Stevens Institute of Technology — $3 million for armament systems engineering.
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In a statement to The Hill, Frelinghuysen stood by his earmark requests.

“My appropriations requests have always sought to benefit New Jersey,” Frelinghuysen said. “That is how I base my submissions to the committee for consideration.”

Last year, the New Jersey-based Daily Record reported that Frelinghuysen signed off on $14.9 million in earmarks in the 2009 appropriations bills for clients of Winning Strategies. He also told that paper that Mullins “is a friend and probably knows New Jersey better than anyone who acts as a legislative representative for a variety of clients.”

Frelinghuysen’s office did not comment to The Hill about the relationship between Winning Strategies and the lawmaker, despite repeated questions. Mullins did not return two requests for comment by press time.

Meanwhile, the president of the Stevens Institute, Harold Raveche, is also close to Frelinghuysen. He and his family have donated more than $20,000 to Frelinghuysen’s campaign since 2004, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics.

The Center also ranked Honeywell International, whose corporate headquarters are in Morristown, N.J., as Frelinghuysen’s second largest donor in 2008 with $14,400, in a combination of political action committee money and individual company donors. By comparison, the center ranks Winning Strategies fifth with $10,100.

Some in Congress have been vocal in trying to change the culture that results in campaign contributors receiving earmarks from the lawmakers they backed. Rep. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeLindsey Graham basks in the impeachment spotlight Kelly, McSally virtually tied in Arizona Senate race: poll The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Nareit — White House cheers Republicans for storming impeachment hearing MORE (R-Ariz.), an anti-earmark crusader, has been pressing for an ethics investigation into the connection between campaign contributions and earmarks. Two junior Democrats, Reps. Paul Hodes (D-N.H) and Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), introduced legislation last week that would ban lawmakers from accepting campaign donations from companies on whose behalf they requested earmarks.