Specter Fumes Over Over Influence-Peddling Charges

Sen. Arlen Specter on Thursday denied any connection between special projects he gained for his state and a Washington lobbyist whose wife works in Specter's office.

The Pennsylvania Republican lawmaker's statement was in response to a USA Today report published Thursday which said Specter had succeeded 13 times over the past four years in securing $48.7 million worth of defense projects for six clients represented by a lobbying firm co-founded by Michael Herson.

Herson is the husband of Vicki Siegel Herson, Specter's legislative assistant for appropriations.

"Ms. Siegel's husband did not lobby my office. The firm of Ms. Siegel's husband did not lobby my office. The companies which received the allocations or 'earmarks' were represented by other lobbying firms," Specter said in the statement.

He said the projects going to Pennsylvania were important for national defense, including one to Drexel University for Pentagon communications, networking technology and civil-preparedness against bioterrorism.

Herson also told USA Today that neither he nor anyone in his firm, American Defense International, had lobbied his wife or anyone else in Specter's office.

The report came as Congress, in the wake of lobbying scandals, debated legislation dealing with earmarks, the targeted projects that lawmakers insert in larger pieces of legislation, often at the urging of lobbyists representing special interest groups.

Lawmakers from both parties have proposed bills that would make it possible to eliminate unwarranted projects from bills without killing the entire bill and would set new rules requiring disclosure of details of the projects and their sponsors.

Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, a leading Democrat on the lobbying reform issue, said Thursday that there was "reasonably broad consensus around the need to increase transparency," surrounding the thousands of earmarks that make it into bills every year. He also said that, like all senators, he tries to gain approval of projects that will help his state. "That's the game that we all play," he said.