Thursday, February 16, 2006

Yes Arlen there is an Earmark Santa

Sen. Arlen Specter helped direct almost $50 million in Pentagon spending during the past four years to clients of the husband of one of his top aides, records show. Specter, (R-Pa.), used a process called "earmarking" 13 times to set aside $48.7 million for six clients represented by lobbyist Michael Herson and the firm he co-founded, American Defense International. The clients paid Herson's firm nearly $1.5 million in fees since 2002, federal lobbying records show.

Herson's wife, Vicki Siegel Herson, is Specter's legislative assistant for appropriations. She deals with Specter's work on the Senate Appropriations Committee and its defense subcommittee, where all the earmarks originated. Siegel, who uses her maiden name at work, is a former lobbyist for defense contractors who has worked for Specter since 1999.

In a statement responding to questions from USA TODAY, Specter said he did not know the earmarks were going to clients of Siegel's husband. "I am advised that at no time did her husband lobby my office or seek appropriations from any member of my staff," the statement said. Taking cues from the Dick Cheney School of Scandal Management Specter declined to be interviewed. His earmark Santa aid Vicki Seigel Herson also refused comment. Amazing how many top people, Ken Lay, Jeff Skilling, Michael Chertoff, Brownie, have no idea what's going around them. On the way up they are the smartest people in the room, masters of the universe. Then when something goes wrong they turn into Chauncey Gardener.

Herson said neither he nor anyone from American Defense International had lobbied Siegel or anyone in Specter's office. "I do not set foot in Specter's office as a lobbyist," Herson said. No. I'm sure when Herson steps over the threshold of Specter's office he is magically transformed into just a spouse of the earmark Santa and when he steps back into the hallway outside the senator's office he's a lobbyist.

Senate ethics rules prohibit senators and their staffers from using their positions to further their personal financial interests. Taking official action in return for money or other benefits is illegal. But not to worry. I'm sure husband-lobbyist and wife-earmark Santa never spoke about the tens of millions of dollars going to Herson's clients. Or the additional $1.5 in income to Herson's firm which I'm going to guess is just him and a cell phone. "Honey, you'll never guess what happened down at the office!" Maybe Herson's wife (aka the earmark Santa) was shocked to find an extra $1.5 million in their checking account. "Dear, I'm balancing the checkbook and I see my paycheck of $1787.00 deposited but where did this $1.5 million come from?"

Ethical issues arise more frequently than criminal cases, said Jan Baran, a Washington lawyer who has handled several ethics cases. "Usually these types of situations are political and not legal issues," he said. Yes. As Michael Kinsley has said for years, it's not what's illegal in D.C. that bothers him it's what's legal.

The 2005 federal budget included 15,877 earmarks amounting to $47.4 billion in spending. Merry Christmas.


Blogger Chris said...

Ye cats. Those are some spooky numbers!

4:59 PM  
Anonymous Utah Desert Rat said...

I want to be her Bad Santa.

10:20 AM  

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