Flake targets earmarks in wake of scandal

Rep. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeHow fast population growth made Arizona a swing state Jeff Flake: Republicans 'should hold the same position' on SCOTUS vacancy as 2016 Republican former Michigan governor says he's voting for Biden MORE (R-Ariz.), the most vocal critic of pork barrel spending in the House, is trying to shake the House ethics committee into action on the link between earmarks and campaign contributors.

Flake has seized on the public corruption investigation of PMA Group, a once-powerful lobbying force that has disintegrated in the wake of an FBI investigation into fraudulent campaign donations to numerous members of Congress.

In the past 24 hours, Flake has highlighted earmarks in the omnibus appropriations bill for PMA clients, written a scathing op-ed to <em>The New York Times</em> about Congress’s pay-to-play practices and offered a privileged resolution on the House floor that would force the House ethics panel to scrutinize the connection between earmarks and campaign cash and report back to the full body in two months.

“The appearance does not reflect well on the dignity of the House,” Flake said. “These earmarks are essentially for no-bid contracts directed to for-profit entities.”

The privileged resolution, which must be voted on within 48 hours of its introduction, is Flake’s boldest anti-earmark move yet. Despite several reforms to the earmarking process in the last few years, most members on both sides of the aisle have been reluctant to crack down on the general practice of securing specific appropriations for pet projects, so Flake’s resolution has little chance of passing. Most likely, the House will overwhelmingly vote to table it.

Still, the resolution could jog a new ethics entity created last year into reviewing the donations from PMA, a firm with close ties to Reps. John Murtha (D-Pa.) and Pete Visclosky (D-Ind.), two senior members of the appropriations panel. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) pushed controversial legislation through the House last year creating the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) to provide an extra layer of scrutiny of lawmakers’ activities.

The OCE’s board is made up of several former House members, the first time the House has relinquished some of its power to police itself to a more independent-minded body. The new office is supposed to respond to questionable activities raised in complaints, the media and by members of Congress and staff and provide recommendations for further action to the ethics committee.

The FBI raided PMA’s offices in November as part of a Justice Department investigation into fraudulent donations from “strawmen,” contributions from people who either do not exist or whose names were being used to make the donation without their permission. PMA has distributed millions to several lawmakers over the past 10 years.