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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.

The Indiana lawmaker’s help steering millions of federal dollars to PMA clients this year comes against the backdrop of what appears to be the firm’s most aggressive fundraising for him to date. In the first six months of this year, PMA and its clients contributed $248,400 to Visclosky’s 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 there’s 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 Visclosky’s 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, ‘I’ve seen what you’ve done in West Lafayette. The region up here needs something transformational to get over what’s 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, Visclosky’s 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. Purdue’s 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.

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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