The Merrillville technology incubator sits at the site of a former cornfield. It was built with $7 million appropriated by the areas Congressman, Rep. Peter Visclosky.
The Indiana lawmakers help steering millions of federal dollars to PMA clients this year comes against the backdrop of what appears to be the firms most aggressive fundraising for him to date. In the first six months of this year, PMA and its clients contributed $248,400 to Viscloskys leadership PAC and personal campaign coffers, 29 percent of his total haul.
Of that sum, $152,650 came in a burst of fundraising in the second half of March, the end of the first quarter fundraising period, but also the two-week period before Visclosky submitted mandatory letters certifying he has no financial interests in his earmark requests. The firm and its clients contributed $75,000 on March 28 alone, five days before Visclosky submitted those letters, on April 2.
PMA lawyer Carmen Jacobs told Roll Call last month that the firm has no control or knowledge of what their clients decide to contribute. Still, the dollar amounts, and the date of their donations, are striking.
The $75,000 contributed by PMA and its clients on March 28 represented 94 percent of the total collected by Visclosky that day, with $27,000 coming from PMA lobbyists and $48,000 from officials with five different PMA client companies. Three of those companies 21st Century Systems, Advanced Concepts and Technologies International, and NuVant Systems are tenants in the technology center.
Ryan Alexander, president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, said the numbers paint a troubling picture that suggests a pay-to-play scheme.
The fundraising so close to the appropriations cycle certainly looks bad, she said. If theres a good explanation if it turns out this is the best way to do economic development in his district, if it turns out that coincidentally, all those clients of PMA decided to give him campaign contributions at the same time, he should make that case.
At this point, when you see a pattern like this, the burden shifts to the Member of Congress to explain it, she added.
Established Players The technology center, according to Hornett, was Viscloskys brainchild. Hornett said that during a brief meeting in 1999 between then-Purdue University President Martin Jischke and Visclosky, the lawmaker noted the success of the Purdue Research Park, an incubator the school set up near its main campus in West Lafayette, Ind., to try to commercialize research breakthroughs by students and faculty.
Congressman Visclosky was basically saying, Ive seen what youve done in West Lafayette. The region up here needs something transformational to get over whats taken place with the steel industry here. ... How can Purdue help us? Hornett said.
As it happened, the university owned about 400 acres on the outskirts of Merrillville, Viscloskys hometown of 30,000 people whose most prominent feature is a highway interchange, bracketed by strip malls, at the intersection of Interstate 65 and U.S. 30. Purdues land had been used to grow corn and soybeans, but with a pledge from Visclosky that he would find federal money to build and operate a business incubator there, the university turned it over for the tech center.
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.