Politics

Mollohan: Under Investigation, Under the Radar

While Capitol Hill reporters have focused laser-like on a handful of Congressional scandals (mostly involving Republicans) at least one Democrat under FBI investigation is emboldened by media inattention to, metaphorically at least, return to the scene of the crime.

U.S. Representative Alan Mollohan, (D-W.V.), has been under FBI investigation for steering federal money to a web of non-profits he helped create, questioned about suspicious land deals that made him a millionaire, and criticized for taking a European vacation paid for by federal contractors.

Mollohan has also paid the Washington, DC, law-firm of Kellogg, Huber, Hansen, Todd, Evans and Figel a staggering $220,000 in legal fees.  According to the firm’s website, they specialize in “white collar criminal defense,” and Mollohan has used his campaign account to pay the hefty legal bills.

“Mollohan has insisted that he never engaged in any improper or unethical activity, but the Justice Department did look into some of the non-profits that Mollohan steered tens of millions of dollars in earmarks toward,” according to an earlier report in Politico.com.

Despite his legal woes, those who curried favor with the West Virginia Democrat continue to funnel tens of thousands of dollars into his campaign coffers.

In fact, a review of Mollohan’s campaign filings with the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) found his legal bills are actually being paid by lobbyists, federal contractors and others with business before the House of Representatives.

Since the beginning of 2007, federal lobbyists and lobby firms contributed at least $67,143 to the 13-term West Virginia Democrat.  Contractors and others receiving federal money added an additional $82,800 to Mollohan’s re-election committee.

And at least part of Mollohan’s fundraising success can be traced to $14 million in federal earmarks he recently secured.

Research conducted by Earmark Watch, a project sponsored by the Sunlight Foundation and Taxpayers for Common Sense, found that Mollohan garnered six earmarks totaling $14 million in a House-passed defense spending bill.  Lobbyists and firms associated with every one of those half-dozen projects contributed a combined $37,250 to his campaign treasury.

Mollohan appeared to ramp-up his fundraising in the waning days of the last FEC reporting period, with more than half of his year-to-date contributions coming in the last nine days of September.  Mollohan has received a total of $232,393.00 in individual contributions since January 1, but $141,350.00 was donated between September 21 and September 30, 2007.

More surprising than who’s giving to Mollohan is who isn’t: his own constituents.

In what may be unprecedented in Congressional fundraising history, Mollohan did not report a single contribution from the Mountain State for the three-month period ending June 30, 2007.  Not one. 

But Mollohan did report contributions from Laura Kurtz Kuhns and her husband, Donald Kuhns.  The pair has given Mollohan a total of $14,150 over the past five years, including contributions to the West Virginia Democrat’s campaign committee, Alan Mollohan for Congress, and his leadership fund, Summit PAC.

Kurtz Kuhns, a former appropriations aide on Mollohan’s Congressional staff, heads the Vandalia Heritage Foundation, a West Virginia non-profit that got its starts thanks to federal funding secured by her old boss.

According to a 2006 report by the Wall Street Journal, Mollohan has driven $28 million in federal money to Vandalia, a historic-preservation group that rehabilitates “historic buildings and invest in depressed real estate in the district.”

Forms filed with the Internal Revenue Service report Kurtz Kuhns was paid a $120,000 yearly salary in 2005, the last year those forms were available on-line.  Mollohan gave Kurtz Kuhns the job, the Washington Post reported.

"There is a limited pool of people who are committed to a service mission," Mollohan explained when questioned about sending federal dollars to Vandalia and other non-profits over which he holds influence.

But as Thomas Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste said in that same 2006 report, "these types of organizations permit lawmakers to reward their own people, and themselves, without having to pay federal taxes."

More problematic for Mollohan is that real estate investments appear to be a two-way street, and not confined to the non-profit he created with taxpayer dollars.  The Wall Street Journal found Kurtz Kuhns “and her husband also are partners with Mr. Mollohan and his wife in five properties in Bald Head Island, N.C., valued in local real-estate records at a total of $2 million.”

Under fire for his personal financial dealings, Mollohan was forced to amend a series of financial disclosure documents, including one that shows the Kuhns loaned the Congressman $35,000.

Mollohan’s real estate investments made him a very wealthy man in a very short time.
Mollohan was worth between $179,012 and $562,000 in 2000; but by 2005, his net worth ballooned to between $7.9 million and $31.2 million.

Another group funded by Mollohan is the West Virginia High Tech Consortium, whose executives donated a total of $12,500 on just two days — September 21 and September 28, 2007.

The group — which owes its existence to Mollohan’s taxpayer-funded largesse – came under fire after it was revealed they arranged a trip to Bilbao, Spain and Paris, France, for Mollohan and his wife paid for by defense contractors.  Many of those same firms – who have received federal earmarks from Mollohan — contributed to his campaign account this year.

In the only sign that anyone is still paying attention to the controversy surrounding Mollohan, Democrat leaders stripped three earmarks the West Virginia Democrat included in a 2008 agriculture spending bill.  The House Rules committee removed three earmarks Mollohan had designated for the Canaan Valley Institute, one of a string of non-profits under scrutiny.


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