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Once-Embattled Visclosky Comes Into Spotlight With Defense Gavel

  • Democrat’s staffer married to lobbyist, panel sees no conflict
  • Indiana lawmaker was part of pay-to-play scandal

Rep. Pete Visclosky is on track to become the defense industry’s most courted man as the likely chairman of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee.

Visclosky, who has kept a very low public profile as the ranking member of the panel, is about to be in charge of the largest slice of federal discretionary spending, which this year is close to $700 billion. A friend of the defense industry, Visclosky has the campaign contributions to prove it.

The industry was Visclosky’s top contributor this cycle, with a total of $353,583 in donations. There are few Washington lobbying firms that have a particularly close connection to the future chairman.

Among them, is Cornerstone Government Affairs, which employs Army veteran John Leggieri. Leggieri, who served as the chief of the Army’s congressional budget liaison office, is the husband of Visclosky’s clerk on the defense panel, Rebecca Leggieri–an Army veteran herself.

John Leggieri is listed on several lobbying accounts, including those for Boeing Co., General Dynamics Corp., Cubic Corp., and Microsoft Corp, according to lobbying disclosure filings with the Senate. Leggieri didn’t return a call requesting comment.

The panel already has taken steps to ensure there is no conflict of interest, said Evan Hollander, the full Appropriations Committee’s Democratic spokesman.

“The committee has a blanket recusal policy for all staff whose spouses work on issues that intersect with the committee,” he said in an e-mailed statement. “Specifically, this means that staff do not participate in any matters that involve or could affect their spouses’ employers and clients.”

Visclosky’s spokesman Kevin Spicer didn’t return an email requesting comment.

Former Aide

Tom Quinn worked as Visclosky’s legislative director and as an associate on the appropriations panel before joining Van Scoyoc Associates. Included in Quinn’s lobbying portfolio is AM General, the company that makes the Humvee in Visclosky’s home state of Indiana. MacAndrews & Forbes Inc. the owner of AM General, is the top contributor with $226, 650 over Visclosky’s congressional career, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Defense companies make up the Top 10 contributors list for the Indiana Democrat in the 2018 election cycle with Lockheed Martin Corp. in the lead with $59,800, followed by Northrop Grumman Corp. with $37,500 and MacAndrews & Forbes with $31,000, including $10,000 from Chairman Ron Perelman and his wife.

BAE Systems Plc, Raytheon Co., General Dynamics, Harris Corp., Boeing, SAIC and General Atomics round out the list, each with contributions in the $20,000-range. All the contributions are a combination of Political Action Committee money and individual contributions, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Pay-to-Play

Visclosky has kept a low profile in part by shunning national media after he was caught in a scandal and FBI investigation surrounding the now-defunct lobby shop PMA Group almost a decade ago.

To this day, the PMA Group still ranks as the second highest campaign contributor over Visclosky’s career. The House Office of Congressional Ethics in 2010 concluded that there was probable cause that Visclosky had sought political contributions in exchange for earmarks. Visclosky had already announced that he’d forgo all requests for earmarks benefiting for-profit companies and he had rejected requests from former PMA Group clients.

The ethics panel closed the case, saying that sponsoring earmarks for an entity that is a campaign contributor doesn’t support the claim that the lawmaker’s actions are influenced by campaign donations.

Lobbyist Paul Magliocchetti of the PMA Group had pleaded guilty to illegally funneling $386,000 in campaign donations to lawmakers, including Visclosky, the late Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) and retired Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.).

Visclosky had to give up his chairmanship of the Appropriations Energy and Water Subcommittee during the investigation.

On the Issues

Visclosky has partnered on several issues with Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), who is expected to become the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. Visclosky sponsored legislation with Smith to allow the Pentagon to start another round of base closures–a particularly unpopular topic with both Democrats and Republicans.

Visclosky is also poised to work with Smith in questioning and potentially reducing the costs of overhauling the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

The congressman has advocated for the full integration of women in the military and has raised an alarm that the increased rate of women leaving the military is a detriment to readiness despite opening up combat positions to them and designing combat equipment fitted to women. He’s also a supporter of writing a new authorization for the use of military force to guide U.S. operations abroad.

To contact the reporter on this story: Roxana Tiron in Washington at rtiron@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at phendrie@bgov.com; Robin Meszoly at rmeszoly@bgov.com; Bennett Roth at broth@bgov.com

The post Once-Embattled Visclosky Comes Into Spotlight With Defense Gavel appeared first on Bloomberg Government.

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