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.
Two of the companies have earned recent attention in political scandals revolving around earmarks. Sierra Nevada paid Dawn Gibbons, the wife of then-Rep. Jim Gibbons (R-Nev.), $35,000 in consulting fees in 2004, the same year the lawmaker, who is now the Nevada governor, sought a $4 million contract for the company to develop a helicopter radar-landing system, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal. Gibbons is at the center of a federal probe into his relationship with another defense contractor.
And 21st Century Systems has earned the ire of Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), who has requested a Pentagon investigation into whether the company failed to file legally required paper work or illegally tapped federal funds for lobbying activities, a Coburn aide confirmed.
Now, with 14 tenant companies filling nearly all the 48,000 square feet in the facility, the center needs to get bigger, and Visclosky once again has stepped in to help. Through earmarks this year, he is directing $2.2 million to the center to fund a 12,000-square-foot expansion.
The center itself, however, is getting less than most of the PMA clients with offices there. Aside from NuVant, which got a Visclosky earmark worth $2 million to develop a methanol fuel cell, each of the clients received $2.5 million from the lawmaker in the Defense spending bill.
Nevada-based Sierra Nevada got money for sensor development that can detect and locate low power battlefield radars that could be a threat to ground forces. 21st Century Systems won funding to develop a virtual fence in partnership with the Indiana State Homeland Security Department.
ACT-I secured support to develop a prototype that will remove contaminants from drinking water through photo catalysis technology, according to Viscloskys certification letters.
And ProLogic pulled in funding to improve military sensor technology. It received an additional $910,000 from Visclosky in the Energy and water spending measure to advance an energy-conservation system for national energy labs.
Hornett and Hanak were both unaware of the federal largess Visclosky is directing to the tenants, but they said it did not concern them. If these companies had contracted for space in our incubator and all they did was take up space and did nothing productive with it, I would be very troubled by that, Hornett said. I know for a fact that is not the case. The space being used is being used productively.
The Obscure Caucus As the PMA clients settled into the technology center in Merrillville, Visclosky was ramping up his fundraising activity, largely through the leadership PAC he formed in 2003.
After the PAC launched in April of that year, the first 23 checks it received a total of $44,250 over the course of six weeks came courtesy of the PMA Group and its clients, including a $5,000 personal contribution from Paul Magliocchetti, the former Murtha staffer who founded the firm in 1989.
By the end of that first cycle, the firm and its clients had raised $98,250 to get the PAC up and running a haul that amounted to 57 percent of its take during that period.
In the years since, PMA and its clients have remained the top source of funds for Visclosky, with most of their donations clustered in March, April and May high season for House appropriators to draft spending bills.
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.