WASHINGTON -- For Republican Rep. Doc Hastings, it made good sense to secure a $750,000 earmark in 2009 for the city of Pasco.
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 Lewis Street Overpass project is just 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 earmarksand other spending provisions to dozens of public projects that are close to the lawmakers' ownproperty.
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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. The business has operated in the same building in downtown Pasco since 1950.
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," said Erin Daly, Hastings' press secretary.
City officials have said 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. 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 Lewis Street Overpass project has the support of the city of Pasco, Port of Pasco and other regional agencies and the state of Washington's Department of Transportation. The BNSF rail corridor connecting the East and West coasts runs over the existing two-lane overpass.
Pasco has allocated about a half a million dollars and so far the state has dedicated $3 million for the project.
"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," Daly said.
-- Rob Hotakainen: 202-383-0009; email@example.com