Flake’s earmark crusade converts some

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’s (R-Ariz.) latest attempt to highlight the corruptive powers of earmarks drew wide support among Republicans and convinced a handful of Democrats to cross the aisle, but ultimately died on the House floor.

Democratic leaders were successful in tabling Flake’s measure, essentially killing the bill that would have forced the ethics committee to scrutinize the link between earmarks and campaign cash and report back to the full body in two months.
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Seventeen Democrats and nearly all Republicans voted with Flake on the procedural motion. Only two Republicans voted against doing so: Reps. Walter Jones (N.C.) and Tim Murphy (Pa.), while 12 members voted present, six Democrats and six Republicans, including all the members of the ethics committee.

“It got more Democratic support than I would have expected,” an ebullient Flake said after the vote. “They usually hold their members on procedural votes. It’s clear that the cloud that is over us all weight on these members and us all.”

When asked if he would offer it again, repeatedly, Flake smiled.

“That’s a safe assumption,” he said.

Republicans this year have pledged to hold themselves to the highest ethical standard and their procedural support for Flake’s effort may be a result of a desire to score some political points against Democrats on ethics issues.

This week Flake seized on the public corruption investigation of PMA Group, a once-powerful lobbying force that has disintegrated in the wake of an FBI probe into fraudulent campaign donations to numerous members of Congress. In his resolution, Flake highlighted several media reports about PMA Group’s fake contributions. It also expressed outrage that the $410 billion omnibus spending bill that passed the House Wednesday contained nearly $8 million in earmarks for PMA clients.

PMA Group had close ties to two senior appropriators, Reps. John Murtha (D-Pa.) and Pete Visclosky (D-Ind.), who both received heavy campaign donations from its employees and clients over the years.

After the vote, Murtha declined to comment when asked about the FBI investigation into PMA and the procedural vote on the Flake resolution.

Rep. Jim MoranJames (Jim) Patrick MoranLawmakers toast Greta Van Susteren's new show Star-studded cast to perform play based on Mueller report DC theatre to host 11-hour reading of the Mueller report MORE (D-Va.), who also has close ties to PMA Group, called the vote “political” and said the “natural processes” of the FBI, possibly even the ethics committee, will investigate and produce its findings.

The FBI raided PMA’s offices in November as part of a Justice Department investigation into fraudulent donations from “straw donors,” 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.

Democrats who broke with their leaders to oppose tabling Flake’s resolution included Rep. Lloyd Doggett (Texas) and Paul Hodes (N.H.), and  vulnerable Democrats: Reps. Melissa Bean (Ill.), John Boccieri (Ohio), Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyWatchdog accuses pro-Kavanaugh group of sending illegal robotexts in 2018 Lobbying world Trump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand MORE (Ind.), Brad Ellsworth (Ind.), Gabrielle Giffords (Ariz.), Debbie Halvorson (Ill.) and  Jim Himes (Conn.) .

Even Rep. Don YoungDonald (Don) Edwin YoungThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Dems release first transcripts from impeachment probe witnesses GOP lawmaker head-butts MoveOn camera Hundreds turn out for London's first transgender equality march MORE (R-Alaska), who has endured earmark-related criticism and was forced from his ranking position on the Natural Resources committee in part because of it, voted with Flake on the procedural motion.

Some of those Democrats and even some Republicans changed their vote after guidance from their leaders.

Afterward, Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) would only say he didn’t know why he changed his vote.

“I can’t tell you why,” he said. “The correct vote was to table.”

Rep. Bill Young (R-Fla.), a senior member of the appropriations panel, said he voted with Flake because he believes that earmarks should be transparent and enough questions have been raised about PMA Group and others to merit more scrutiny.

“If members have questions about it, I have no problem with being totally open and having it looked into,” he said.