Friday, February 17, 2006

Gee, You Think Karl Rove Is Behind This Leak?

Payback's a bitch, even for a cancer survivor. Just ask Arlen Specter.

From the NY Times:

WASHINGTON, Feb. 16 — Senator Arlen Specter defended himself and a member of his staff on Thursday after the disclosure that clients of a lobbyist married to the staff member had received money through the senator's actions.

Vicki Siegel Herson, who until recently was Mr. Specter's legislative assistant on the Appropriations Committee, is married to Michael Herson, a top executive of the lobbying firm American Defense International.

Mr. Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, and his staff confirmed that six of Mr. Herson's clients received a total of about $50 million over the last four years through items Mr. Specter inserted into military appropriations bills in a process known as "earmarking." The earmarks were first reported Thursday in USA Today.

In a conference call with reporters Thursday afternoon, Mr. Specter said that neither he nor his aide, who uses her maiden name professionally, had violated any ethics rules.

"Vicki Siegel's husband did not lobby me or anybody in my office," Mr. Specter said, adding that she left her position with the committee six months ago for unrelated personal reasons. She remains on his staff.

Still, Mr. Specter said he would conduct a further inquiry into the possibility that Ms. Siegel might have knowingly played a role in allocating federal money to one of her husband's clients.

"That would be a blatant conflict of interest," Mr. Specter said. "I don't think that happened, but I am going to go back and take a look at the specifics of it."

By the end of the day, a spokesman for Mr. Specter said he had decided "voluntarily" to refer the case to the Senate Ethics Committee as well.

Many Congressional staff personnel — along with several members of Congress — are married to lobbyists. But the questions raised about whether Ms. Siegel had a role in helping her husband's clients receive millions of dollars is coming to light at time when recent scandals have drawn new scrutiny to lobbyists' influence on Capitol Hill.

The potential benefit to the Siegel and Herson household from the appropriations could set off Senate rules governing conflicts of interest. The rules state that a staff member must not "permit any compensation to accrue to his beneficial interest from any source, the receipt of accrual of which would occur by virtue of influence improperly exerted from his position."

Is this Karl Rove's way of letting Senator Specter know the NSA spying program investigation Specter chaired last week isn't appreciated by the boys and girls up at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue?

I'd bet it is.

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