DeLauro Spikes Earmark for Private Firm

Posted April 2, 2010 at 5:29pm

Connecticut Democratic Rep. Rosa DeLauro has withdrawn a $2 million earmark request she made on behalf of the University of Connecticut following a Roll Call inquiry about the actual beneficiary of the earmark.

DeLauro’s office said she concluded upon review that the earmark would benefit a private company in violation of the House Democrats’ ban on earmarks for private entities.

A member of the House Appropriations Committee, DeLauro had requested the earmark to establish a Solar Technical Center of Excellence at Flabeg Technical Glass in Naugatuck, Conn.

The earmark was described on the lawmaker’s Web site as a partnership between the University of Connecticut and Flabeg, a German glass company with a plant in DeLauro’s district to “develop an environmentally friendly and high performance solar mirror paint solution using UConn’s engineering and materials expertise coupled with Flabeg’s 25 years of experience in the solar market.”

But DeLauro Press Secretary Kaelan Richards said that after further review, the request does not meet the House Democrats’ recently installed ban on directing Congressional spending to private companies.

“We had been under the impression that it would primarily benefit the University of Connecticut, and that is not the case,” Richards said in a statement. “Though we still believe that the partnership between Flabeg and UConn would be positive, and develop environmentally friendly solar technologies, while supporting the local economy, and contributing to our nation becoming more energy independent, it will be withdrawn from consideration.”

The University of Connecticut and Flabeg did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

DeLauro’s decision to distance herself from the earmark comes as several House Democrats are requesting earmarks that appear to primarily benefit for-profit entities, despite the Caucus-wide ban.

A Roll Call review of lawmakers’ 2011 earmark requests shows that Democrats are trying to secure earmarks for a variety of trade associations and consortia composed of for-profit businesses, defense contractors and private companies pairing with universities.

“Some of these are on the up and up, but nonprofits may have some quasi for-profit ties,” said Steve Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense.

Ellis noted that this isn’t the first time nonprofits and universities are being used as business incubators for private companies.

Before his death, Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) directed millions of dollars to Concurrent Technologies Corp., a nonprofit technology innovation center in his district that was created through Murtha earmarks in the late 1980s. The CTC now has facilities all over the world and continues to seek earmarks. The nonprofit counts several federal agencies as well as companies such as Lockheed Martin, Pratt & Whitney Aircraft and Honeywell International as representative clients, according to its Web site.

Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense Chairman Norm Dicks (D-Wash.) has requested two defense earmarks worth $9.5 million for CTC’s Bremerton, Wash., location for fiscal 2011. Dicks’ requests include $5.5 million for enhanced Navy shore readiness integration and another $4 million technology earmark to reduce the weight of ships while also decreasing costs of Navy ships.

House Appropriations Committee spokesman Ellis Brachman said the ban applies to for-profit entities.

“The committee is going to take a look at each [request] and make a decision case by case,” Brachman said. “If it is for a for-profit entity, they will not be getting earmarks.”

The Appropriations panel is also requiring audits of at least 5 percent of all earmarks directed to nonprofit entities.

“This new measure is to ensure that earmarks go to their intended purposes and prevent for-profits from masquerading as nonprofits,” House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) and Dicks said in a joint statement, following the earmark ban announcement in March.

Still, not all Members are avoiding earmarks that benefit private ventures.

Iowa Democratic Rep. Leonard Boswell is standing behind requests he made for the Iowa Biotechnology Association and the Iowa Soybean Association.

Boswell is seeking a $1.8 million earmark for the biotechnology association to develop new ways to convert corn into fuel.

While the trade association is a nonprofit, it counts large agricultural and biotechnology companies such as Cargill Inc.’s corn milling division and Monsanto’s agricultural sector-molecular breeding as members, as well as Pfizer Animal Health.

Boswell is also backing a $1 million earmark for the Iowa Soybean Association for a “certified environmental management system for agriculture.” The soybean group, a nonprofit, is focused on helping “farmers expand profit opportunities while promoting environmentally sensitive production using the soybean checkoff and other resources,” according to the group’s Web site.

Boswell Press Secretary Jane Slusark said both projects are important because of the benefit they will bring to the Congressman’s district and the rest of the state.

Additionally, Slusark noted that both groups are nonprofits.

“Before, that money would have gone to a private company and the private company would technically own the study, but consortiums are a whole bunch of companies and at least that research is shared and not going to benefit one company’s profits,” Slusark added.

Democratic Rep. Bart Stupak (Mich.) is also standing behind the millions of dollars in earmarks he requested for defense contractors such as Century/3 Plus, Engineered Machined Products Inc., Marinette Marine Corp. and Calumet Electronics Inc., even though he recognizes they violate the new ban, according to his press secretary, Michelle Begnoche.

“Congressman Stupak is aware that these projects will not be funded under the new rules but feels they are important projects worth bringing attention to,” Begnoche said. “Many have been funded previously and have benefited the military and the American people.”