In early May, Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) introduced 12 bills to suspend importation duties on chemicals such as Isoviolanthrone Crude Dry Presscake and 4-Sulfo-1,8-naphthalic anhydride potassium salt.
The obscure names and dense bill text, which would amend the Harmonized Tariff Schedule, might leave casual observers perplexed. But according to disclosure forms, eight of the 12 proposals had something in common: They would benefit United Color Manufacturing Inc., a dyes and pigments firm in Fitzpatrick’s district.
Thomas Nowakowski, the president of the company, said the “low six figure” monetary value of the duty suspensions is critical for his company to stay competitive with rivals in India, China and Mexico.
But Nowakowski and his family have also been generous campaign donors to Fitzpatrick and the Republican Party, giving the Pennsylvania Republican more than $26,000 since 2002 and more than $150,000 to Republican candidates and party organizations during that time.
On March 30, about one month before Fitzpatrick introduced the eight bills, Nowakowski, his wife, Carmella, and his son Thomas Jr. donated $5,500 to Fitzpatrick.
Despite the coincidental timing, the campaign donations are not evidence of impropriety or quid pro quo. Fitzpatrick’s office and Nowakowski said the donations were not related to Fitzpatrick’s introduction of the eight bills.
But as House Republicans debate whether to count tariff suspension bills as earmarks under House rules, critics of the provisions say the Fitzpatrick example raises exactly the sort of questions that got earmarks banned in the House in the first place.
“Anything that appears to be provided in exchange for donations does raise questions and certainly doesn’t improve Congress’ popularity,” said Thomas Schatz, president of government watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste.
Since the House Ways and Means Committee published a list of 1,300 miscellaneous tariff proposals on its website Thursday, some conservatives have pushed back.
Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) wrote an article today for National Review Online urging that Republicans not stray from the party’s earmark ban that specifically addressed “tariff earmark[s].”
On Friday, an analysis by Heritage Action for America showed that the vast majority of the 1,300 proposals benefit 10 or fewer companies, making them banned “earmarks” under House rules.
United Color Manufacturing, which employs about 40 people at two Pennsylvania locations, imports various chemicals to produce dyes and pigments that are then used by downstream manufacturers.
“A lot of our competition comes from China, comes from India, comes from Mexico. And basically, the rules and regulations are less over there. The wages are less over there,” Nowakowski said.
For many of the chemicals the company imports, there is a 6 percent to 7 percent duty, which Fitzpatrick’s bills would suspend temporarily. “It makes us more competitive globally against cheaper competition, which I would think everyone would want,” Nowakowski added.
United Color Manufacturing first proposed the duty suspensions to Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), who has introduced the Senate companions to Fitzpatrick’s bills. Nowakowski has not donated to Casey, and Senate Democrats have not adopted a pledge to eliminate tariff suspensions and other earmarks in authorization bills. They have agreed to eliminate earmarks in spending bills, however.
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.