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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.

On March 23, 2004, for example, the firm and its clients contributed more than $100,000 to Visclosky’s campaign arm and the PAC. And, at the end of March 2006, the firm and its clients contributed about $150,000 to the lawmaker, according to federal election reports.

It is not clear why Visclosky has intensified his fundraising activity in recent years. Lawmakers typically have two reasons to bank funds: Either they are facing tough re-election fights and need to build up campaign war chests, or they are trying to climb the committee or leadership ladder and want to spread money to colleagues to foster goodwill for their bids. But neither scenario appears to describe Visclosky’s position.

In 12 House runs, the lawmaker’s support has dipped below 60 percent only once — during the 1994 elections that swept Democrats from power — and has topped 65 percent in every other race. In 2006, Visclosky shattered his opponent, perennial Republican challenger Mark Leyva, by outspending him 110 to 1.

And unlike Murtha, another PMA benefactor, who launched an unsuccessful bid for House Majority Leader last year, Visclosky has no discernible leadership ambitions. Several people familiar with his thinking said he is satisfied with his cardinal status at the helm of an Appropriations subcommittee.

His studiously quiet approach to his job earned him a spot in Roll Call’s “Obscure Caucus” this year. Of national media attention, he has said, “I try to avoid that like the plague.”

He mostly has used his leadership PAC to support endangered Democratic incumbents or challengers in close races, including spreading $13,000 in the previous cycle to three Indiana Democrats — Joe Donnelly, Brad Ellsworth and Baron Hill — who ousted Republicans in heated House contests.

And unlike Murtha, who blasted the Democrats’ ethics reform package as “total crap” and was one of only 15 Democrats to vote against the party’s lobbying reform bill, Visclosky has been a leading, if quiet, advocate of reform. In March, he was one of only two veteran lawmakers to originally co-sponsor a proposal offered by freshman Democrats to overhaul the ethics enforcement process.

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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