Democrat Dirty Laundry: Arcuri, Maffei Called Out for Sketchy Earmark Requests

May 19, 2010

Arcuri, Maffei Called Out for Sketchy Earmark Requests
New York Dems Rake in Campaign Cash, Skirt Party Rules to Return Favor in Earmarks

SPIN CYCLE: Speaker Pelosi Vowed that Democrats Would Lead the “Most Honest, Most Open, and Most Ethical Congress in History”

“Our goal is to restore accountability, honesty and openness at all levels of government. To do so, we will create and enforce rules that demand the highest ethics from every public servant, sever unethical ties between lawmakers and lobbyists, and establish clear standards that prevent the trading of official business for gifts,” (Nancy Pelosi’s “A New Direction for America,” Page 21).

RINSE CYCLE: Arcuri, Maffei Rake in Campaign Cash, Skirt Party Rules to Return Favor in Sketchy Earmark Requests

Congressional earmarks — special grants sought by senators and House members for their districts — make up less than 1 percent of the federal budget. But they are a lightning rod for critics of excessive government spending.

There’s good reason for that. Abuse of the earmarks system — the famous “bridge to nowhere” in Alaska comes to mind — has been all too frequent.

When Democrats took back the House in 2007, they made the system more transparent, requiring members to post their grant requests on their websites. Then this year, Speaker Nancy Pelosi banned earmarks to for-profit companies. House Republicans quickly responded with a ban on all earmarks for their members, although four GOP members have announced they will defy it.

As staff writer Mark Weiner reported on Sunday, that openness took a hit recently as two local House members, Dan Maffei, D-DeWitt, and Michael Arcuri, D-Utica, have attempted to skirt Pelosi’s new rule. Both men have requested earmarks for non-profit groups that would then forward the money to for-profit companies.

The most blatant example is Maffei’s $1 million request for the Manufacturers Association of Central New York. The money would fund the development of devices that can detect trace explosives and hazardous chemicals. MACNY does none of that work, of course, and openly acknowledges that it would simply pass the money to Inficon, a for-profit company in East Syracuse. There is no mention of Inficon in the summary of the earmark posted on Maffei’s website.

It doesn’t help matters that Syracuse-based lobbyist Michael Brower, who advocated for the earmark for Inficon, donated $7,800 to Maffei’s campaign over the last two years. Brower also advocated for O’Brien & Gere, which would benefit from another Maffei earmark request, and for RPM Ecosystems in Dryden, which would benefit from an Arcuri earmark that would purportedly go to the non-profit Tompkins County Area Development in Ithaca. Brower donated $1,600 to Arcuri in 2008.

Most of the earmark money requested by both congressmen would legitimately go to non-profit organizations. And both men defend the earmark funds that would go to for-profit companies, saying they would create jobs and boost the local economy.

That may be true. But their “end around” attempt to funnel money to for-profit companies in defiance of the ban is a step back toward the kind of abuse and shady dealing that the new rules are attempting to eradicate.

Maffei and Arcuri should come clean — to House leaders and on their websites — on exactly where their earmark money would go. While they’re at it, they should work to pass the Earmark Transparency Act, which would create an online, searchable database of all earmark requests — and require that the actual recipients of the money be listed. (Editorial Board, “Reps. Maffei, Arcuri take a step back on earmarks,” The Post-Standard, 5/19/2010)

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