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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.

It is unclear precisely how the five PMA clients found their way into the building, officially called the Purdue Technology Center of Northwest Indiana.

The PMA Group, per firm policy, declined to comment for this story, and none of its five clients in the center returned several calls for comment. The five clients collectively paid PMA $420,000 in fees during the first six months of 2007.

John Hanak, the center’s executive director, and Joseph Hornett, senior vice president of the Purdue Research Foundation, which oversees the Merrillville operation as part of the university’s statewide business incubation program, both said they had never heard of the PMA Group and were therefore unaware of its relationship with the charter tenants and Visclosky.

Bob Wichlinski, who was charged with scouting the first occupants for the building as its interim executive director, did not return five phone calls for comment. After handing over the reins to Hanak in June 2005, Wichlinski was hired by one of the PMA clients — an Arlington, Va.-based company called 21st Century Systems — and now works out of the company’s space in the technology center.

Visclosky’s office also declined to address why PMA clients were the only companies in the center to secure earmarks from the lawmaker this year.

In his statement, Kitsch said the Congressman “works hard to represent the people of Northwest Indiana, and believes that as the representative for the First Congressional District, he is better suited than some Washington bureaucrat to determine the needs of Northwest Indiana.”

When making decisions about how to appropriate federal funds, Kitsch said Visclosky follows some basic guidelines: “Is it the right thing to do? Does it improve the quality of life of people in Northwest Indiana? Does it have long-term potential to benefit the area?”

Appropriations Clout
Though by all accounts a low-key lawmaker who shuns the national spotlight, Visclosky has exceptional clout in determining the flow of federal funds. The Democratic return to power only magnified his status on the Appropriations Committee: He retained his seat on the powerful Subcommittee on Defense while gaining the chairmanship of the Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, another rich earmarking source.

Like Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), a close ally who wields the gavel on the Defense Subcommittee, Visclosky has not been shy about flexing his spending muscle.

Besides Murtha, only four other House Members — Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Appropriations ranking member Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) and Subcommittee on Defense ranking member Bill Young (R-Fla.) — managed to secure more earmarked funds in this year’s spending bills than Visclosky, according to a study by Taxpayers for Common Sense.

Clients of the PMA Group have fared particularly well by Visclosky this year. They won 14 of 28 earmarks he inserted into the Defense spending bill alone — a total of $28 million in projects, or some 52 percent of the funds Visclosky earmarked in the bill, according to an analysis by Roll Call and Taxpayers for Common Sense. (A Roll Call analysis of Visclosky’s earmarks last month undercounted his support for PMA clients, since the firm failed to file a mid-year report with the Senate detailing its work for ProLogic, a West Virginia-based company and a tenant in the technology center.)

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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