The Wall Street Journal is reporting today that the Justice Department has commenced a probe of Alan Mollohan (D-WV), the ranking Democrat on the House Ethics Committee, for his use of earmarking projects for nonprofits in his district:
A 12-term congressman, Mr. Mollohan sits on the House Appropriations Committee, a panel that disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff dubbed the "favor factory." Working with fellow West Virginian Sen. Robert Byrd, Mr. Mollohan has steered at least $178 million to nonprofit groups in his district over the past five years using "earmarks" — special-interest provisions that are slipped into spending bills to direct money to pet projects.
The money has brought more than jobs and building projects to his district. It has formed and financed a tight-knit network of nonprofit institutions in West Virginia that are run by people who contribute regularly to Mr. Mollohan’s campaigns, political-action committee and a family foundation. One of these people also invests in real estate alongside Mr. Mollohan and his wife. The network of contributors also includes private companies that get contracts through these nonprofits.
Central to the Mollohan network is a former staffer, Laura Kuhns, who heads the nonprofit Vandalia Heritage Foundation. It is a historic-preservation group that is financed almost exclusively by earmarks backed by Mr. Mollohan. It paid her $102,000 in 2004. Vandalia is coordinating construction of the new building for the Institute for Scientific Research, or ISR, and Ms. Kuhns sits on its board and those of three other nonprofits that get funds via earmarks.
She 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. The Mollohans recently bought a $1.45 million oceanfront home on the island, called the Peppervine House, which they rent out for $8,555 a week, next to the Kuhns’ house, known as Cape Fearless. These and other investments, including a stake in a nine-story luxury condominium complex in Washington, appear to have made the Mollohans wealthy.
Mollohan has not been accused of wrong doing but “[s]uch a pattern raises questions about whether the donations or deals might be a way beneficiaries of earmarks could influence the legislator’s actions.”