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Monday, June 09, 2008

Roger Wicker: Pay to Play

By way of the good folks at Cotton Mouth comes word of an article in the Commercial Appeal this weekend, examing the "circular money flow" between Roger Wicker's campaign contributors, Mr. Lockstep, and the ultimate recipients of his pork barrel earmarks:
For Wicker, fostering relationships with companies that benefit from his earmarks has paid off well. From the $159 million in earmarks Wicker delivered for companies, local governments and other organizations this fiscal year, $113,950 in campaign contributions can be directly traced to those earmark recipients, according to a review of federal records by The Commercial Appeal.

Steve Ellis, vice president of the independent watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense, describes that circular money flow as "pay-to-play."

"These people are giving money with a purpose in mind," Ellis said. "This is not because, hey, Joe Blow is a nice guy. This is an investment."
Investment, quid pro quo, politics for sale....any number of descriptors come to mind.

And everybody (in Wicker's inner circle) seems to get a piece:
For fiscal year 2008, Wicker sponsored 42 earmarks totaling $159 million, ranking him among the House's top spenders...

...In addition, one of the lobbying firms Radiance hired to represent its interest was Legislative Initiatives, a one-man outfit run by Brad Ayers, Wicker's former legislative aide. Ayers received $180,000 for representing Radiance in 2007....

..."Obviously we don't forget their names in a year," he (Wicker)said. "They're people we've known for a long time, and we've built an acquaintanceship for sure. ... Clearly, when a member is discussing an issue with someone he knows personally, I'm sure it's an advantage."

It's an advantage Wicker granted twice last year.

Among the other beneficiaries of his 2008 earmarks was Aurora Flight Sciences, a Manassas, Va.-based company represented by lobbyist John Keast.

After 11 years of working for the Mississippi congressman, Keast resigned in 2006 and accepted a position with Cornerstone Government Affairs, which Aurora paid $120,000 in 2007 as Keast's one-year ban on lobbying Wicker expired.

While being lobbied by Keast, who did not return calls seeking comment, Wicker sponsored an earmark that awarded Aurora $6 million to produce unmanned aerial vehicles, also known as drones, at its recently opened facility in Columbus, Miss.

Theirs was a burgeoning relationship, campaign finance records show. From 2005 to 2007, Aurora's employees and members of its lobbying firm contributed $24,150 to Wicker's campaign. In fact, Wicker was even a guest aboard Aurora's private jet on a flight from Virginia to Starkville, Miss., in 2005 -- a gift that would now be improper under House and Senate rules.

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