The House Committee on Standards and Official Conduct ruled Friday that bribing a member of Congress is legal as long as that member can come up with another excuse for earmarking money for a campaign contributor.
The panel cleared seven lawmakers who added pork barrel earmarks to bills to spend hundred of millions of dollars of taxpayer funds on behalf of companies that poured huge campaign donations into their political warchests.
The 305-page whitewash of a report said it’s OK to accept campaign cash and reward the donor with contracts and earmarks as long as the lawmaker can claim the action was “criteria independent” of the payoff.
The ruling is a slap in the face to a few honest members of Congress who have tried to limit the growing use of earmarks to award those who pump large sums of money into the campaign coffers of elected officials who are willing to perform when paid for services.
With a recent Supreme Court ruling that allows corporations now to spend virtually unlimited amounts on behalf of candidates, the ethics committee ruling opens the door for even more widespread abuse.
“Simply because a member sponsors an earmark for an entity that also happens to be a campaign contributor does not, on these two facts alone, support a claim that a member’s actions are being influenced by campaign contributions,” said the report.
The report cleared Reps. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.), Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.), Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.), Peter J. Visclosky (D-Ind.), C.W. Bill Young (R-Fla.) and John P. Murtha (D-Pa), who died this month.
The seven were charged with steering $112 million worth of earmarks for clients of the PMA Group, a lobbying firm, after that firm raised more than $350,000 worth of campaign contributions for the members.
The Justice Department still has an open investigation on PMA and the bribes and the FBI raided the lobbying firm’s office and seized its records. PMA folded after the raid.