Conlin goes after Grassley & wife for “Bridge to Nowhere”

Roxanne Conlin, the Iowa Democratic Party’s nominee for the U.S. Senate, held a two o’clock news conference this afternoon during which she criticized her opponent, Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, for voting on the bill that funded the “Bridge to Nowhere” and for which his wife’s employer received tens of thousands of dollars in fees for lobbying on the bill.

Here’s more from Conlin’s statement: “The 2005 Transportion bill contained 6000 pork projects, including the infamous Bridge to Nowhere in Alaska. Iowa’s Chuck Grassley brought his staff to the floor of the Senate to congratulate them on their work on the bill.  What he failed to mentionwas that Chambers, Conlon & Hartwell — the lobbying firm where his wife “crafts legislative strategy” received more than $250,000 in fees to secure the Bridge to Nowhere.”

Conlin, saying “patriotism has been hijacked by greed,” accused Grassley supporting proposals — including tax cuts — that “brought us the greatest crisis since the Great Depression.”

Conlin, a few minutes later:  “We need someone with a spine to stand up to corporate special interests.”

Conlin said Grassley has authored bills that extend tax credits which “directly benefit the firm that pays his wife’s salary.”  A break for the railroad industry amounts to about half a billion dollars annually, according to Conlin’s staff.

Conlin finished her opening statement at 2:15.  Time for questions from the reporters.

Q: Are spouses fair game?

Conlin: “Well, certainly mine has been and mine doesn’t work for a lobbying firm.  His wife, Barbara, works for a lobbying firm that lobbies him and that lobbies on behalf of governments and corporations that have business with the United States Senate.  I’ve given you three examples of what we perceive to be a pretty direct connection.”

Q:  Do you think Senator Grassley should abstain from voting on bills on which his wife’s lobbying firm lobbies?

Conlin: “I think that’s up to Senator Grassley and his sense of ethics…The people of Iowa probably are generally not even aware that Senator Grassley’s wife works for a lobbying firm, let alone that Senator Grassley himself was responsible for that infamous Bridge to Nowhere and that his wife’s lobbying firm got a quarter of a million dollars to get that in the bill.”

UPDATE:  Eric Woolson, a spokesman for Grassley’s campaign, issued the following statement:

“People who live in very large houses and go out of their way to avoid paying taxes should avoid throw stones.

“We’ve criticized Roxanne Conlin’s hypocrisy but we’ve never attacked her husband. The fact is that she’s listed as a co-founder, co-manager and co-owner of Conlin Properties so when we pointed out that they received $1.2 million in federal stimulus money that did not create a single job, that was criticism of her hypocrisy.
She claims to want to end tax breaks for the wealthy but then goes out of her way to take them.

“Mrs. Grassley has never been a lobbyist.

“Everyone who knows anything about the governing process knows that earmarks originate in the Appropriations Committee, which was chaired at the time by Ted Stevens of Alaska. Chuck Grassley wasn’t even on that committee. Rep. Don Young of Alaska chaired the conference committee on the transportation bill.

“At some point, I’d think Roxanne Conlin would be embarrassed by some of the out-and-out falsehoods she’s telling about Chuck Grassley but I guess her Campaign to Nowhere has made her so desperate she doesn’t care what she says.”

In case you didn’t click on the link, this is Mrs. Grassley’s bio on the firm’s website:

An integral professional staff member of CC&H for nearly two decades, Mrs. Grassley’s well-honed communications, business and administrative experience packs a uniquely qualified combination for the firm’s clients who have grown to depend on the policy expertise, grassroots mobilization know-how and legislative strategy skills. Mrs. Grassley has sharpened through her commitments and obligations developed in Iowa politics and on Capitol Hill as the wife of Iowa’s senior U.S. Senator.  Mrs. Grassley began her tenure at CC&H in 1987 as the firm’s accountant and assistant to the managing partner bearing primary responsibility for the business and administrative affairs for the company.  Since that time, Mrs. Grassley’s professional duties have expanded to include organizing and managing client conferences, shaping corporate development, crafting legislative strategy and assisting clients with message development and drafting of communication materials. A key staffer for the firm’s work on behalf of the railroad clients Mrs. Grassley has amassed extensive expertise in the regulatory and legislative affairs affecting the industry. In addition to her full-time job at CC&H, Mrs. Grassley continues an active role in Iowa politics and is involved in a variety of civic and service organizations. A former board member of the Cedar Valley Mental Health Clinic, she also lends her support to fund-raising efforts of the American Cancer Society. Mrs. Grassley has a degree in Accounting from the University of Northern Iowa.

Read the Radio Iowa story, which covers the dispute between the two campaigns about the $400 million “Bridge to Nowhere”. Grassley camp says Barbara Grassley’s firm didn’t lobby for it — the one that became infamous during the ’08 presidential campaign.  Conlin camp says the firm did lobby for another “Bridge to Nowhere” elsewhere in Alaska and the $200 million price tag for that other bridge was a waste of money, too.

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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.