WASHINGTON — For Republican Rep. Doc Hastings, it made good sense to secure a $750,000 earmark in 2009 for the city of Pasco, Wash.: It would help replace a deteriorating, 74-year-old underpass that had to be closed for repairs last year, a road so dangerous that school buses couldn't even pass through safely.
The project is only three blocks away from property owned by Hastings.
Hastings is defending the project after the Washington Post reported Tuesday that he and 32 other members of Congress directed more than $300 million in earmarks and other spending provisions to dozens of public projects that are close to the lawmakers' own property.
As Congress required, the Post reported, Hastings certified that he and his wife had no financial interest in the earmark. But the newspaper said Hastings said nothing about its proximity to Columbia Basin Paper & Supply, the janitorial supply company that Hastings owned and operated until he was elected to Congress in 1994.
His brother now runs the company, but county records show Hastings and his wife still own the land and a 7,000-square-foot building, the Post said.
Hastings did not list the business property on his financial disclosure form. His press secretary said debts owed by family members do not have to be reported.
"After winning election in 1994, the congressman acted to remove himself from the business as he took office and made an agreement with his brother for him to purchase it over time," Erin Daly, Hastings's press secretary, told the Post.
City officials told the newspaper that replacing the underpass is one of their top priorities. And Hastings told the Post that the location of his property had no bearing on his support for the project.
"It never crossed my mind," he said. "Every business in Pasco will benefit by that."
The Post said there is nothing illegal or unethical under the arrangement, under ethics rules Congress has written for itself.
In a statement released by Hastings' office Tuesday morning, Daly said Hastings took two immediate steps when he was first elected: refusing to take a congressional pension, and signing an agreement to sell his business to his brother.
Daly said Hastings has been separated from all aspects of the business and its operation for 17 years. And she said action has been initiated to file the paperwork necessary to officially record transferring ownership of the building property from Hastings to his brother.
Daly noted that the project, called the Lewis Street Overpass project, has the support of the local community, regional governments and the state of Washington's Department of Transportation.
"Due to the earmark reforms that Doc Hastings helped enact, these types of transportation funding decisions will now be made by states and not by Congress," she said.
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