When most people contribute to a campaign, they don’t expect their money is going to be used to pay the legal bills of Washington lobbyists ensnared in a wide-ranging corruption investigation. But that’s what could end up happening.
For months now, federal investigators have been looking at whether the PMA Group, a now defunct lobbying firm, tied campaign contributions to earmarks. Rep. Pete Visclosky (D-IN), who sits on the Defense Appropriations subcommittee and has close ties to PMA, has been subpoenaed for documents in the probe.
Today, reports CQ, the FEC ruled that Visclosky can use campaign contributions to pay not just his own legal bills, but also those of his aides. And not just current aides, but former ones.
Why is that significant? Because Rich Kaelin, a former chief of staff and top appropriations committee staffer for Visclosky, went to work as a lobbyist for PMA after he left the congressman’s office.
Kaelin would seem to be in the thick of any campaign-cash-for-earmarks probe focused on Visclosky and PMA. As CQ adds:
Kaelin and his wife, for example, have donated $32,000 to Visclosky’s personal campaign fund and his political action committee. Calumet PAC, since 2004, according to a CQ MoneyLine analysis of FEC reports.
Lobbying disclosure records and a review of earmarks also show that Kaelin represented a dozen PMA clients that received more than $20 million in earmarks from Visclosky in the fiscal 2008 Defense appropriations bill.
That means that Visclosky’s contributors may find themselves footing the bill for one of the lobbyists at the center of the scandal.
And it might not stop there. PMA’s founder, Paul Magliocchetti, is a former aide to Rep. John Murtha, who’s also believed to be a focus of the probe. So Magliocchetti’s bills too, could end up being paid by campaign contributors.
The FEC’s decision wasn’t even close, with 5 commissioners voting to let Visclosky use his campaign funds however he likes, and only one opposing it.
In June, Visclosky announced that he’d step down as chair of the Energy and Water Development Appropriations subcommittee until the investigation is over.