Politics & Policy

Breaking: Mystery Wind-Energy Earmark Raises New Questions About Sestak’s Honesty

Reports yesterday emerged that Joe Sestak had potentially violated House ethics rules barring earmarks going to for-profit groups. Now, the Sestak campaign and the would-be earmark recipient, Drew Devitt, are offering competing, at-odds narratives.

At issue is whether Sestak’s congressional office was aware that Devitt, who requested a $350,000 earmark as chairman of the Thomas Paine Foundation, also heads a for-profit group called New Way Energy, LLC., which would have “partnered” with his foundation to develop a potentially for-profit wind prototype.

The problem is: The Thomas Paine Foundation exists only on paper. Calls from Battle ‘10 to the foundation were unsuccessful. An automated message noted that the number had been disconnected. The foundation hasn’t filed a federal tax return in six years. In 2004, its most recent filing year, its budget totaled $195, with “program expenses” amounting to $65.

The Thomas Paine Foundation “partners” with the Freethought Society of Greater Philadelphia, an atheist advocacy group, though in comments to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Devitt said the latter advocacy group had “nothing to do with the request.”

April Mellody, spokeswoman for Sestak’s campaign, blamed Devitt for misleading congressional staffers when applying for his earmark. But Devitt told the Tribune-Review, “I don’t believe I misled them.”

Drew Devitt, whom Battle ‘10 reached via New Way Energy, LLC., refused to comment when asked about his and Sestak’s contradictory statements.

The competing narrative over this earmark is reminiscent of the three-sided “jobsgate” controversy that first emerged during Sestak’s primary challenge to Arlen Specter. Sestak has refused to comment on the nature of a job he was offered in the Obama administration in exchange for dropping his challenge to Specter. Sestak ultimately did not drop out of the race, and defeated the veteran Specter in the Democrat primary. The administration contends “jobsgate” merely concerned a non-paid advisory post.

A GOP political consultant, who spoke under condition of anonymity, said he views the earmark controversy as “no different than jobsgate. This is about Sestak’s version of the truth versus someone else’s version of the truth, and whether we’ll know what the truth is.”

Nachama Soloveichik, Pat Toomey’s communications director, told Battle ‘10, “Either Congressman Sestak isn’t telling Pennsylvanians the whole truth about his latest earmark violation, or his office is guilty of gross incompetence.”

Critics have emerged, including Pennsylvania Republican Chairman Rob Gleason, who have questioned how thoroughly Sestak’s congressional office researches earmark requests. 

The earmark request has been rejected by a House appropriations subcommittee. But that it was even proposed by Sestak raises the question of what Sestak’s office considers “due diligence.”  What would qualify a foundation — with no prior research and development experience and whose most recent programs budget totaled $65 — for a $350,000 wind-energy grant?

Calls to the Sestak campaign for further comment have not been returned.

Battle ‘10 will continue to follow this story as it develops.

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