More than a dozen of Sen. Patty Murray's former staff members have become lobbyists, and their connections appear to be paying off: Nearly $20 million of the Democrat’s defense earmark requests would benefit the clients of her former employees, The Seattle Times reported Thursday.
There is nothing illegal, unusual, or inherently unethical about a lawmaker’s former staff members becoming Capitol Hill lobbyists. Senate ethics rules require a one-year “cooling off” period that bars senior staff members from immediately lobbying their former bosses.
But the issue of federal spending and political favoritism has become heated on the campaign trail, where Murray faces a competitive challenge for a fourth term from Republican former gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi.
The Times’ examination showed that at least 17 former Murray staff members have moved into the lobbying sector, capitalizing on insider knowledge and connections to win federal money for their clients.
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Murray has submitted earmark requests worth about $57 million for the 2011 defense spending bill, the Times reported. Earmarks are federal grants awarded at the request of individual lawmakers, with no competitive bidding.
Of that total – a fraction of the overall earmarks Murray has sponsored – at least nine projects worth $19.5 million would benefit clients of her former aides.
Murray has defended the practice of earmarked spending as a way for senators to ensure spending benefits home-state interests, rather than leaving such decisions up to executive branch administrators.
Murray’s office said earmarks highlighted in the Times story were supported by the military and would create jobs in Washington. Murray spokesman Matt McAlvanah also said Murray supports increased transparency for earmark requests “so that Washington state residents know what she has requested and why.”
The Times said former aides whose clients got Murray-sponsored earmark requests in the new defense bill include:
Rick Desimone, Murray’s former chief of staff, who left in 2007 to become executive vice president of McBee Strategic Consulting.
Shay Hancock, Murray’s former lead defense staffer. Hancock twice moved from Murray’s office to the private sector, most recently leaving in 2006 for Denny Miller Associates.
Chad See, a former Murray aide now lobbying with K&L Gates, who helped two Eastern Washington clients get defense-bill earmarks from Murray worth $4.5 million.