Former Sen. Max Cleland (D-Ga.) has withdrawn from the board of directors of a charity with close ties to Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) in response to a Roll Call investigation of the group’s limited achievements and close ties to a broad network of people and companies Murtha has aided.
The staff of the organization, the Pennsylvania Association for Individuals with Disabilities, displays a fierce commitment to the cause of helping people with disabilities find employment. But the life cycle of PAID seems to match many of the other Johnstown, Pa.-area entities that have received Murtha’s assistance: Launched with his backing, the organization gathers government contracts that Murtha earmarks but works primarily with other companies Murtha has funded. And it can point to few successes that are unrelated to the Congressman. Since its inception, Murtha has kept PAID on life support.
Even the organization’s highest-profile gift from Murtha — the announcement in August that Cleland would join the board of directors — turned sour after Roll Call contacted Cleland about his role and the group’s history.
Through a spokesman, Murtha declined to comment for this story.
In an Aug. 2 press release, PAID announced that Cleland would join the board of the organization, which was described as “a non-profit organization representing 60 million persons with disabilities, 64,000 of which are veterans, helping them with job assistance and training.”
Cleland has had a long friendship with Murtha and served as chairman of Veterans for Murtha during the 2006 elections when Republicans attacked Murtha for opposing the Iraq War.
Cleland said in an interview that he also has worked “informally” with Murtha over the past two years to develop a $5 million Defense Department wound-care initiative to test innovative techniques for helping veterans heal. In July, Cleland became a lobbyist for Tissue Regeneration Technologies, a Georgia-based company that is marketing new wound-care technology to the Defense Department.
PAID’s August press release quoted Cleland as saying, “I am truly honored to be joining a first-class organization whose sole mission is to fight for people who deserve the same opportunities as every able-bodied American does.”
But on Monday, Cleland told Roll Call, “I am no longer considering being a member of the board ... I really don’t know much about the organization and really don’t have time to get involved.”
In an interview in August, PAID founder and President Carmen Scialabba, a former Murtha staffer and now a lobbyist with KSA Consulting, said, “what we intend to do is spread this thing not only nationwide, but worldwide.”
But several major statewide disability organizations in Pennsylvania contacted by Roll Call had never heard of or worked with PAID. The state’s Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, which pays organizations to help prepare people with disabilities for the work force, says it has never hired PAID despite the fact that the organization rents office space in a rehabilitation center run by the OVR in Johnstown. A statewide network of employers seeking to hire people with disabilities contacted PAID some years ago, but PAID did not join with the network, its director, Stacy Liddick, said in an interview.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.