Republican Pat Toomey crusaded against earmarks for most of his three terms in the U.S. House, and not long ago took a live pig to Independence Mall as he challenged his Senate-race opponent, Rep. Joe Sestak, to swear off the funding that lawmakers direct to their pet projects.
But in his first term representing the Lehigh Valley's 15th District, Toomey won at least $9 million in earmarks, including $3 million for a private company that became for a time his largest single source of campaign contributions.
Air Products & Chemicals Inc., a major corporation based in Allentown, was awarded the money in October 1999 to develop a ceramic-based technology to generate sterile compressed oxygen for use by the military on the battlefield, in planes, and on ships.
All told, Toomey got at least three earmarks that year, according to news releases archived on his old congressional website. He served in Congress from 1999 to 2005.
Besides Air Products, he secured $1 million for a freight-transfer center that Bethlehem Steel Corp. was building as part of the redevelopment of its defunct Bethlehem mill. He also won $5 million for Navy research on double-hulled shipbuilding at Lehigh University.
Toomey has attacked Sestak on earmarks. Most recently, he criticized the Democrat for seeking $350,000 this year for a nonprofit foundation linked to a for-profit corporation to develop a new type of wind turbine, contrary to a House ethics rule. Toomey has also blasted Sestak for raising nearly $120,000 in campaign contributions from earmark recipients since entering Congress, though he had pledged not to on his campaign website.
"Congressman Toomey is a typical politician who attacks his opponents on earmarks but refuses to tell Pennsylvanians the truth about who he got earmarks for," said Sestak spokesman Jonathon Dworkin, calling on Toomey to release all of his old requests. "What is he hiding? And why does he think that he should be held to a different standard than everyone else?"
New rules established in the last two years require disclosure of lawmakers' earmark requests, and the House has also banned earmarks to for-profit companies. Previously, requests were made in secret and it was not always possible to tell who was sponsoring one - unless a member of Congress bragged about it publicly.
"Pat isn't trying to hide anything," Toomey spokeswoman Nachama Soloveichik said of Toomey's first-term requests. "He has very openly admitted he got a couple of earmarks . . . and quickly realized how out of control and how abusive the process was and said, 'Enough.' "
In the two years leading up to his 2000 reelection campaign, Toomey reaped $25,161 in donations from Air Products - $10,000 from its political action committee and the rest from employees, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. For the 2002 election cycle, Toomey received $20,450 from Air Products employees and $10,000 from the PAC.
Air Products was Toomey's largest single source of contributions in both the 2000 and 2002 election cycles.
Employees of Air Products donated $10,200 to Toomey's Senate campaign through June, according to campaign-finance records. The company's PAC contributed $5,000.
During his congressional career, Toomey also received $9,950 from executives of Bethlehem Steel, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Toomey did not request earmarks after his first term in office, and became one of a handful of Republicans, including Rep. Jeff Flake of Arizona, who offered amendments to strip the special spending from appropriations bills.
Sestak's earmarks are at issue because he violated his own vow not to take contributions from earmark recipients and because he steered funds to a nonprofit with ties to a profit-making firm, Soloveichik said.
"It's a question of his credibility," she said.
Sestak said last week that he did not "put two and two together" and catch the connection between the Thomas Paine Foundation and the for-profit company before sending a letter to the Energy Department about the proposal. "It's my fault, no one else's," Sestak said.