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A Lucrative Center for Visclosky, PMA

Tory Newmyer/Roll Call
The Merrillville technology incubator sits at the site of a former cornfield. It was built with $7 million appropriated by the area’s Congressman, Rep. Peter Visclosky.

MERRILLVILLE, Ind. — In a former cornfield 10 miles south of the blighted core of Gary, the once-thriving steel capital, stands an ultra-modern technology incubator that locals hope will spark an economic resurgence.

Built with $7 million in federal money secured by Rep. Peter Visclosky, the tech center has been a pet project for the 12-term Democrat from this Rust Belt district in the northwest corner of the state.

Its purpose, officials with the center say, is to nurture startup technology companies into viable businesses that will eventually move into their own space nearby, continue to grow and create jobs.

But well before the building has had a chance to bring a full-scale revival to the area, it has brought something else: five clients of the PMA Group, the lobbying firm that has emerged in recent years as Visclosky’s top political benefactor.

When the center opened its doors in January 2005, the five clients — only one of which is headquartered in the building — comprised the bulk of its seven charter tenants.

Though the center now houses 14 businesses, the PMA clients were the only tenants to receive earmarks from Visclosky in House appropriations bills this year. Together, those companies stand to collect $12.9 million.

The move by PMA clients into Visclosky’s district has coincided with a strengthening of the firm’s ties to the lawmaker.

Since hiring Richard Kaelin, Visclosky’s former chief of staff, at the beginning of 2004, PMA and its clients have roughly doubled their fundraising support for the Congressman. That help includes contributing 50 percent of the total funds raised through June 30, 2007, by Calumet PAC, Visclosky’s four-year-old leadership political action committee, according to an analysis of federal election records.

It is a classic Washington, D.C., triangle of interlocking self-interests: in this case, a powerful Congressman, an influential lobby shop and the lobby firm’s numerous clients. And while it is impossible to know the exact reasons that some firms get earmarks and others do not, in Visclosky’s case, there are certain irrefutable facts: PMA and its clients are the Congressman’s top fundraisers — and PMA clients his top earmarking recipients.

Visclosky declined to answer detailed questions about his involvement with the center. In a statement, spokesman Justin Kitsch called the operation “a magnet for cutting-edge research and development.”

He said the Congressman played no role in recruiting companies to the center. “Obviously, given the diverse tenants, and the need to expand, the Purdue Technology Center has proven its success,” he said. “While Congressman Visclosky is not involved with daily operations of the facility, or the recruitment of companies, he certainly enjoys monitoring the success of the facility.”

Chart: Contributions From PMA and Its Clients to Visclosky and His PAC; Lobbying Fees From PMA Clients to PMA; and Fiscal 2008 Earmarks From Visclosky to PMA Clients | Chart: Campaign Contributions by PMA and Its Clients to Visclosky

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