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Calvert Mounts Defense on Earmark Allegations

In an effort to respond to criticism surrounding his recent appointment to the Appropriations Committee, Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) intends to have the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct vet his future earmark requests.

“I’m going to do that, to ask the ethics committee, ‘Is that an appropriate thing for me to do?’ because obviously I can be objective about it as much as I like … but I’d rather have a letter stating that,” Calvert said in a Tuesday interview arranged at his office’s request.

“It’s a new reality that we have to deal [with], and I think it’s probably a good thing, especially if you have any property in the region outside of your residence,” Calvert said. “I think if you have any commercial property within any distance you ought to ask. Probably 90 percent of the time it doesn’t have any effect on [property] values but sometimes it might, and I think in today’s reality that’s something that more and more people are going to be doing.”

The House Steering Committee selected Calvert last week to fill the vacancy left on the panel by Rep. John Doolittle (R-Calif.), who gave up his seat after his Northern Virginia home was raided by the FBI. The decision to appoint Calvert has been criticized by members of the Republican Conference, including Reps. Ray LaHood (Ill.) and Dave Camp (Mich.), but the Conference overwhelmingly approved the assignment and the House approved it without objection.

It is unusual for a routine committee assignment to draw so much ire, but Republicans concerned over the appointment said that, at the very least, Calvert has a perception problem.

The eighth-term lawmaker was the target of a 2006 Los Angeles Times story that questioned his support of a transportation earmark near commercial real estate in which he has a financial interest. Calvert has dismissed the accusations as bogus, but the matter is complicated by the fact that the FBI pulled Calvert’s financial disclosure records shortly after the stories appeared.

Calvert has not retained legal counsel and said he never has been contacted by the FBI. The bureau has a long-standing policy of not confirming whether it is conducting a particular investigation, so it is unclear what, if any, interest it has in Calvert.

Calvert said he might have fallen victim to a post-Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-Calif.) world, in which the Justice Department is more attuned to vetting stories questioning lawmaker’s business transactions. (Cunningham pleaded guilty to corruption charges and is now serving prison time after newspaper stories sparked a federal investigation of his ties to defense contractors.)

“In the shadow of Duke Cunningham, which has caused this problem I think on the entire institution, whenever there’s a story like that I think the FBI feels compelled to look into that and I think they pulled my financial disclosures to look into it,” he said. “I don’t blame them, that’s a legitimate thing to do to make sure that people are doing the right thing. I have no problem with people looking into that transaction.”

Calvert is launching a quiet public relations campaign to defend himself and the deal, seeking out the media and his colleagues who are uncomfortable with the appointment to make his case. “That’s pretty much all you can do is talk to people and say ‘Take a look at it,’” he said.

Outside groups, including the prominent conservative blog RedState, have launched a campaign targeting members of the Steering Committee in an attempt to force Calvert off the panel. While the rhetoric is heated — “It is a war for the heart and soul of the Republican Party,” according to RedState — they have had little impact on Capitol Hill and there is no indication that the Steering Committee will reverse the decision.

“Like any decision we make around here, there are people who like it and people that don’t,” House Republican Conference Chairman Adam Putnam (Fla.) said Wednesday. “RedState has every right to object to a particular decision we’ve taken or a particular policy. The Steering Committee vetted this process thoroughly and on the floor of the House it was adopted unanimously.”

Calvert called the accusations of any wrong-doing “frustrating,” “sensationalized” and “crazy,” but he acknowledged that it has tainted his reputation among some of his colleagues. “There are Members that if all of a sudden a glow came upon my head and I started walking on water it wouldn’t make any difference,” he said. “Some people make up their mind and there’s no changing it.”

Calvert’s office also provided his 2006 financial disclosure report, which was due Tuesday. He lists $2.6 million to $8.2 million in real estate property assets. Calvert also sold three properties in 2006, earning $1.2 million to $2.5 million in profit, and he purchased a vacant lot valued at $250,000 to $500,000. He also lists three mortgages totaling $1.3 million to $5.6 million.

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