Politics & Policy

Patty Murray and the Revolving Door

The Seattle Times has a lengthy — and rather damning — exposé detailing Democratic Sen. Patty Murray’s intimate relationship with the lobbying industry. Throughout the campaign, Murray and Washington state Democrats have relentlessly sought to portray Republican challenger Dino Rossi as unethical for his “sleazy” relationship with lobbyists.

As it turns out, at least 17 former members of Murray’s staff have found new homes in the lobbying sector, but have certainly kept Murray’s office on speed-dial, judging from the array of lucrative favors and earmarks awarded to their clients (emphasis added):

When Sen. Patty Murray announced earlier this month that she had inserted $57 million in earmarks in the 2011 defense appropriations bill, she touted the two dozen projects as critical jobs-creation spending.

It was another election-season reminder of the 18-year Democratic incumbent’s ability to steer federal dollars back home as a member of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee.

What Murray didn’t mention is that at least nine of her defense-bill earmarks — worth $19.5 million — were awarded to clients of her former aides who now work as lobbyists.

Murray’s former chief of staff — Rick Desimone — secured a $1 million earmark in the defense bill for Canadian medical company. Shay Hancock, Murray’s former lead defense staffer, lobbied on behalf of three firms that eventually won $7.5 million in earmarks.

Not surprising, then, that lobbying firms — including the ones that that employ her former staffers — are among the largest contributors to Murray’s campaign:

In Murray’s case, the staffers-turned-lobbyists and their clients who got earmarks in the 2011 defense bill have given $80,000 since 2006 to the senator’s campaign and to M-PAC, her political-action committee, according to contribution data maintained by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Murray’s campaign has denied any favoritism in awarding of the earmarks, saying “[Sen. Murray’s] only concerns are creating jobs and supporting our troops.”

Additional instances of Murray’s cozy relationship with ex-staffers turned lobbyists include:

• Hancock, whose lobbying biography says he was “the primary architect of the SAFE Port Act,” a 2006 law aimed at improving port security, when he was Murray’s lead defense staffer. Hancock twice went through the “revolving door” from Murray’s office to the private sector, most recently leaving in 2006 for Denny Miller Associates, founded by the former chief of staff of the late Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson.

• Dale Learn, who lists his six-year stint with Murray on a biography that declares his experience and contacts “provide unmatched access and unparalleled advice regarding federal governmental issues.” Learn, a lawyer, manages the D.C. office of the Tacoma law firm Gordon Thomas Honeywell.

• 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.

• Christy Gullion, Murray’s former state director, who is now the chief federal lobbyist for the University of Washington, which won a $1.5 million Murray earmark for research on restoration of eyesight for wounded soldiers. Her husband, Jeff Bjornstad, is Murray’s current chief of staff and is on leave managing her re-election campaign.

Since 2006, Learn has donated $18,000 to Murray and her PAC; Hancock has donated $9,000.

Murray’s position on the Senate Appropriations Committee has allowed her to steer hundreds of millions in federal dollars to organizations of her choosing. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Murray supported 190 earmark projects worth $220 million, the ninth most of any member of Congress. Citizens Against Government Waste gave her an annual rating of three percent, with a lifetime rating of 11 percent, or “Hostile.”

Earlier this month, in an interview with The Seattle Times, Washington state Democratic Party Chairman Dwight Pelz accused Rossi of having a “sleazy track record” with lobbyists, but argued the Murray’s own ties were “beyond reproach.”

Murray’s contributions from lobbyists were different, Pelz said, because “she does not allow her donations to affect her voting record.”

In light of these revelations, that will be a difficult case to make.

Andrew StilesAndrew Stiles is a political reporter for National Review Online. He previously worked at the Washington Free Beacon, and was an intern at The Hill newspaper. Stiles is a 2009 ...

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