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The Battle for America 2010: DISCLOSE-ing Harry Reid’s Pay-to-Play Habit

The Democrats pushed legislation to curb corporate political contributions, but it turns out that Sen. Harry Reid has some DISCLOSE-ing of his own to do.

by
John Ransom

Bio

September 30, 2010 - 10:33 am

While Democrats in the Senate pressed for DISCLOSE Act legislation that they claimed would stop corporations from spending their cash to influence elections — especially those corporations that have received federal stimulus money — their leader may have become a poster child for the corrupt backroom bargaining known as “pay-to-play.”

On at least eight occasions, Senator Harry Reid made budget requests on behalf of donors to his re-election campaign. On three other occasions, he made requests on behalf of clients of a lobbying firm that contributed heavily to his campaign.

Meanwhile, Senate Democrats postponed a vote on the DISCLOSE Act — which they say is aimed at reining in corporate contributions — because, as Ben Smith of Politico wrote, there was “something else going on: A big New York fundraiser for the Senate Democrats.” Smith says that prices for the glitzy affair which featured President Obama went as high as “$15,200, but a mere $2,500 contributed or raised buys you access to a ‘VIP reception with members of Congress.’”

Harry Reid’s reception in Nevada recently hasn’t been as rich. He has come under fire for earmarking funds for a program that the Department of Defense has already rejected — a Las Vegas defense contractor, Arcata Associates, ran the program.

Reid’s earmark requests were part of the U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services authorizations. Commonly known as “pork-barrel” spending, the practice of earmarks has fallen into disfavor with voters because of rising concerns about reckless government spending, even though the practice brings money and jobs back to the states.

We crosschecked Senator Reid’s earmark requests with publicly disclosed campaign contribution records. That check reveals that about one-third of the corporate requests were made by employees and associates of companies which contributed to Reid’s campaign. One contributor, Sierra Nevada Corp, is a top-twenty contributor to Reid’s campaign; and another hired a lobbying firm for $100,000, which then contributed over $13,000 to the campaign. The contributions total at least $93,000. When counting in associated contributions from friends and relatives of the companies, the sum could be well over $200,000.

Says Ciara Matthews, a spokesperson for Reid’s opponent, GOP nominee Sharron Angle:

The news that Senator Reid is raking in massive amounts of money in campaign contributions from the same company that he is sponsoring earmarks on behalf of is very disturbing. … With all the trouble the Democratic Party has gotten into over the past year with “pay to play” politics, you would think that the majority leader would be more careful picking and choosing which companies he went to bat for.

Records show that Reid was the sole sponsor of over 98 earmarked projects totaling $132 million, according to the government transparency site Legistorm.com.

Recently, a private 527 website run by Nevada Republican Danny Tarkanian, who lost the GOP primary to Sharron Angle, questioned the Arcata earmarks. The site harryreidvotes.com claims that Arcata employees and family members of Arcata employees have contributed about $140,000 to Harry Reid’s campaigns. The site questions the propriety of Reid giving Department of Defense contracts to a large donor of his campaign, when the DoD has already terminated their program.

Tim Wong, president and CEO of Arcata, declined to be interviewed for this story, agreeing only to respond via email. In his email, Wong seemed to indicate that Arcata Associates used employees to act as a conduit for campaign contributions to Senator Reid on behalf of the company. Law prohibits corporate contributions to candidates. Writes Wong:

We appreciate your inquiry regarding Arcata Associates and its campaign contributions. … Arcata Associates has been a strong member of the Las Vegas business community for over 30 years. During that time, we have contributed to the campaigns of countless local, state and federal candidates of both parties who we believe can most effectively represent the people and businesses of this state, including Senator Reid.

Arcata has so far declined to answer follow-up inquiries regarding its contributions. Ciara Matthews concluded:

While this type of behavior may be politics as usual in Washington, the voters of Nevada are sick and tired of it, which is why they will vote for Sharron Angle in November.

A request for comment by Harry Reid’s office went unanswered.

John Ransom is a professional writer and editor based in the Rocky Mountains.
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