published Friday, May 18th, 2012

Scott DesJarlais 'bought' by lobbyists, say Tennessee Democrats


by Chris Carroll

Tennessee Democratic Party officials are renewing accusations of "pay-to-play politics" in U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais' office.

Statewide Democratic leaders initially raised the issue in late March, saying the first-term Republican received re-election help from a nuclear energy company five days before he urged government officials to "free up funds" for one of the company's projects.

A minutelong video released Thursday describes DesJarlais as "bought and paid for by the Washington lobbyists."

The online video explores DesJarlais' relationship with USEC Inc., a Maryland-based nuclear energy company and a contractor at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Numerous residents commute there from DesJarlais' 4th Congressional District.

On March 14, 2011, USEC's political action committee sent $1,000 to DesJarlais' re-election campaign. Two months later, the congressman signed a letter asking White House officials to "make rapid completion" of a loan guarantee for the company's "American Centrifuge" project.

On Oct. 31, 2011, USEC's PAC sent another $1,000 to DesJarlais. Five days after the check arrived, the congressman signed a separate letter urging the Department of Energy to "take administrative action now to free up funds" for USEC.

DesJarlais has branded himself a fiscal conservative committed to privatizing government programs and slashing federal spending.

"This level of hypocrisy is pathetic," Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester said. "We'll never get our economy back on track ... as long as self-serving politicians like Scott DesJarlais are corrupting our government with pay-to-play politics."

In a statement, DesJarlais said the USEC project is "a key concern to both our national security interests and nuclear energy production."

"I have and will continue to support this project because of its importance to national security and job creation in East Tennessee," he said.

He did not address the Democrats' attempt to link the timing of the contributions and the letter signings.

DesJarlais faces re-election in November. His likely Democratic opponent, state Sen. Eric Stewart, of Belvedere, has gone on record supporting the USEC project, but he has questioned DesJarlais' timing in writing letters immediately after getting campaign contributions.

U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, who represents Oak Ridge and the rest of Tennessee's 3rd Congressional District, has received $2,500 in USEC contributions. He co-signed both letters on behalf of the company, but statewide Democrats did not mention that in a news release touting the DesJarlais video.

"We didn't want to muddy the message," Tennessee Democratic Party spokesman Brandon Puttbrese said.

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