Follow the money. That’s what the movie version of “Deep Throat” said in All the President’s Men. No one recalls how the phrase got into the script, including the script writer. But it’s a good rule.
The Pentagon gets about $600 billion a year, not counting $88 billion for actually fighting wars. How easy is it to slip in a special favor? Very.
A U.S. Senator’s wife was hired at $80,000 a year. The organization that hired her monitors an education program. The monitoring firm is paid by the company that provides the education. It’s called Starbase.
“All those opposed to teaching children science please stand up!” You get the idea.
In 2008, the Senate Appropriations Committee added $4 million for spending on this science education program.
The Senator’s wife told her employer that the program was OK. After all, she ran its website.
The head of the lobbying group said he hired her because she was looking for a job. “We didn’t hire her because of her husband. We didn’t hire her for that reason. She was an experienced educator.”
Shortly after hiring the senator’s wife, Spectrum filed a lobbying registration form with the House and Senate naming Barbara Johnson as a lobbyist for the company. The form listed Starbase as her only client.
Sharp said the form was submitted in error.
“That was a mistake. She never lobbied the Hill,” he said. “She never lobbied her husband.”
She told the reporter, “I was never a lobbyist.” That settles it.
The Senator never told anyone on the committee about his wife’s connection to the program.
Perry Plumart, a spokesman for the senator, said Johnson played no role in his wife’s employment and had no contact with Pentagon Starbase officials. Plumart said the senator didn’t think it was necessary to disclose his wife’s employment in certifications filed with the Appropriations Committee because the money he added to the program was technically not an earmark.
That’s clear enough. As for the $4 million to fund the program, that was just one of those things, just one of those crazy things.
The senator’s spokesman said the money was not an earmark because it was added to an existing program, not intended for any specific aspect of Starbase, and the request for additional funds was not directed to Johnson’s home state of South Dakota. “Sen. Johnson’s support of increased funding for STARBASE was not an earmark under the definition of a congressionally directed spending item as defined by the Senate Rules,” Plumart said in a statement.
See? The money did not go to the Senator’s state. So, it was not an earmark.
Barbara Johnson said she sought an oral opinion from the Senate Ethics Committee to ensure that her employment “wasn’t crossing any lines.” She said she couldn’t recall when she sought the opinion or who she met with at the Ethics Committee, but she said she was told that her employment was permitted under Senate rules. “They said it didn’t pose any conflict,” she said.
This is how the game is played inside the Beltway. This is how it will continue to be played until the money runs out.