Specter faces an ethics problem


    Sen. Arlen Specter is defending a staff member against published
    charges that millions of dollars in special defense projects had been
    directed to companies represented by the lobbying firm led by the
    aide’s husband.

    Specter was responding to a front-page report this week in USA
    Today that said his office was instrumental in getting $50 million in
    projects for six clients of a Washington-based lobbying firm, American
    Defense International, between 2002 and 2005. American Defense
    International’s president is Michael Herson, the husband of Vicki
    Siegel, who handled Specter’s work for the Senate Appropriations
    Committee until last year when she scaled back her work to one day a
    week.

    Questions remain about how some of the money ended up in defense
    appropriations bills, particularly because three of the six companies
    listed Herson as their sole lobbyist in Washington at the time they
    received the money set aside in defense appropriation bills by
    Specter’s office.

    Though Specter defended some of the projects as important for
    Pennsylvania and national defense, he said he had never heard of some
    of the companies.

    The funding was placed in the defense legislation through an
    increasingly controversial procedure known as “earmarking” _ which
    allows lawmakers to set aside or “earmark” money in spending bills for
    pet projects or initiatives, usually benefiting their states or
    districts.

    Specter said his office gets hundreds of requests for the earmarked
    funds each year and that it would be impossible for him to review each
    project.

    “When I went over these lists of companies only Drexel (University)
    rang a bell and there I have met on occasion with some of the officials
    but infrequently and I couldn’t tell you what it was about or when it
    occurred,” Specter said.

    But Specter emphasized that Herson never lobbied his office, and
    said Siegel assured him she never lobbied for the projects. Just an
    hour and a half after a conference call with reporters, William H.
    Reynolds, Specter’s chief of staff, supplied the names of the people
    they said requested the money for the six projects.

    The recipients were Drexel in Philadelphia; Gentex Corp., which has
    a facility in Carbondale, Lackawanna County; Gestalt LLC, which has an
    office in Montgomery County; 3e Technologies, with facilities in
    Indiana County and Philadelphia; and Power+Energy Inc., and Universal
    Space Network Inc., both of which have offices in suburban Philadelphia.

    Specter and Reynolds said they do not believe there has been any
    violation of law or Senate ethics rules, but Reynolds said the office
    is taking the precaution of referring the matter to the Senate Ethics
    Committee for review.

    “I would be shocked if (Siegel) was involved in any earmarking
    knowing that her husband was involved, but I’m going to check it out,”
    Specter said. “I do not have any allegation, charge or suggestion of
    any impropriety on their part, but I’m open to listen.”

    Several watchdog groups said the issue had once again illustrated
    the problems that arise from marriages between Capitol Hill staffers
    and lobbyists. Such unions are legion in Washington. They said the
    report also underscored the need to change the rules for earmarks,
    which have been used by lawmakers to reward lobbyists.