By Alex Roarty
Update, 5:00 p.m.:
Sestak’s campaign responded to Toomey Monday by saying the congressman’s office did everything it was supposed to to ensure the earmark request was proper. Heads of non-profit organizations routinely are involved in other for-profit enterprises, a spokesman said, and that shouldn’t disqualify them from receiving earmarks.
“The office did its appropriate due diligence,” said spokeswoman April Mellody, adding that the money in question was never actually appropriated. “If someone misrepresents themselves to the U.S. Congress, that should certainly be addressed.”
Sestak, who supports earmark reform, has been a leading advocate of government transparency while Toomey has refused to reveal his history of earmark requests, she said.
“The fact is Joe Sestak has led the way to transparency and earmark reform,” said the spokeswoman. “If we’re going to talk about earmark reform, then quite frankly Congressman Toomey should stop hiding his own earmark requests.”
Pat Toomey’s campaign on Monday pounced on a Morning Call story that revealed Democratic Senate nominee Joe Sestak might have delivered a $350,000 earmark to a for-profit company, which is against the rules.
Either Sestak knowingly broke the rules or didn’t do nearly enough research on the earmark request before handing out the money, neither of which is good, the Toomey campaign said.
The Morning Call reported Saturday that Sestak gave the Thomas Paine Foundation, a non-profit organization that advocates for keeping religion out of government, a $350,000 earmark to develop a prototype for an offshore wind turbine. Although the organization does not appear to have any history developing wind technology, its owner, Drew Devitt, also owns a for-profit energy company, New Way Energy LLC.
The paper reported that Devitt acknowledged the money would go to him — his home address is listed on the earmark request — and could be used for commercial application.
“One of the things Obama did for 2010 was to eliminate for-profit filing for line items, so obviously New Way wasn’t qualified,” Devitt told the Call. “But Thomas Paine wasn’t for-profit, so it was eligible to file for a line item.”
The U.S. House this year barred delivering earmarks for for-profit companies. A Sestak spokesman said the congressman was unaware Devitt also ran a for-profit wind-turbine business.
It’s the second time earmarks have tripped up Sestak in the general election. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported in July that Sestak had received more than $100,000 in campaign contributions from companies that received earmarks despite pledging not to accept donations from companies that received the federal money.
The Toomey campaign said it was bad enough Sestak had failed his own earmarks ethics test.
“Now, Sestak is violating House rules by using a non-profit as cover for doling out tax dollars to his pet project,” said Toomey spokeswoman Nachama Soloveichik. “Joe Sestak and the Washington wasteful earmark game are so out of control that you can’t make this stuff up. It would almost be funny if it wasn’t such a tragic waste of tax dollars.
“Congressman Sestak, please tell Pennsylvanians why it’s okay to break House rules to fund a wind turbine project for an atheist group with our tax dollars,” she said.
Update, 3:00 p.m.:
State GOP Chairman Rob Gleason held a conference call with reporters Tuesday over the earmark flap, saying that voters deserve to know why Sestak delivered the earmark to a company without any previous history in wind technology.
“The people of Pennsylvania deserve to know the truth,” he said. “Why did Congressman Sestak fight to get funding for this project even though this grouop has no history of working on wind turbines?”
As the Toomey campaign did, Gleason linked the controversy to Sestak’s past earmark issues to characterize him as just another politician.
“For all his talk about being a different type of congressman, the facts simply tell a different story,” he said.