Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Specter helped win OK for $200,000 grant for client of staffer's son

Specter helped win OK for $200,000 grant for client of staffer's son
By Matt Kelley, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON — Sen. Arlen Specter obtained a $200,000 grant last year for a Philadelphia foundation represented by the son of one of Specter's top aides,the latest example of how the Pennsylvania Republican has helped clients of lobbyists related to members of his staff.

Bill Reynolds, Specter's chief of staff, said an investigation found two lobbyists who sought financial favors and who were related to staff members. Specter has changed his office rules to ban lobbying by staffers' relatives.

"The better practice is what we have now. We're living and learning," Specter said in an interview.

In February, USA TODAY reported that Specter helped get almost $50 million in funding for clients of a lobbying firm run by the husband of Specter's top appropriations aide, Vicki Siegel Herson. After that, Specter called for a Senate ethics investigation of his office and asked his chief of staff to determine whether there were other potential conflicts of interest.

Lobbyist Eric Wallace, a former Specter intern, is the son of Specter's Scranton office chief, Andy Wallace. Lobbyist Shannon Meadors Oscar is the wife of Michael Oscar, former head of Specter's Philadelphia office. Eric Wallace sought money for 13 projects, Reynolds said. Specter helped win approval for one: a $200,000 grant to Impact Services, a Philadelphia non-profit firm, for housing homeless veterans. Both Wallaces declined to comment.

Those lobbyists are banned from contacts with the Specter's office under new rules he imposed after USA TODAY reported that Specter helped direct $48.7 million in Pentagon spending to the clients of lobbyist Michael Herson, Vicki Siegel Herson's husband.

Reynolds said he investigated and found no violations of the law or Senate rules by Siegel or Herson. On March 7, Specter sent the matter to the Senate Select Committee on Ethics, which has announced no action. Rob Walker, the committee's chief of staff, said he can't comment on individual cases.

Reynolds said Oscar also asked Specter to help get federal money for one of her clients. That client, the ALS Hope Foundation, a Philadelphia charity for people with Lou Gehrig's disease, did not receive federal money. Oscar declined comment. Her husband, who now works for Rep. Michael Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., said his wife had "no special access" to Specter's office.

Specter is a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, which writes federal spending bills. He's chairman of the subcommittee that oversees spending for the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Education. That gives him power to insert special measures called "earmarks" into spending bills directing federal money to certain projects.

Specter banned earmarks from the Labor, Education and Health and Human Services funding bill last year because of budget cuts and a disagreement with the House of Representatives. In a news release in November, he called it the toughest choice he has made in the Senate.

Find this article at: