West Michigan Congressman Vern Ehlers is denying a report that lobbyists are funding a commemorative portrait of him that will be hung in the US Capitol Building.
According to The Hill, Ehlers is one of three members of Congress who are currently raising money for portraits. The money will be given to the US Capitol Historical Society who will then commission the paintings. Ehlers–along with Jerry Lewis and Don Manzullo–has established a committee to fund a Congressional portrait. Ehlers and his chief of staff are coordinating donations, and according to the article, have received a $5,000 donation from Verizon.
Watchdog Group Questions Fundraising
In The Hill, the watchdog group Public Citizen questioned the fundraising, saying the portraits are another way through which major corporations, business groups, and lobbyists can purchase influence. Craig Holman of Public Citizen was quoted saying, “Note that there are few, if any, private funders for these portraits that do not have business pending before Congress” and that “This is an influence-peddling opportunity identical in nature to special interests hosting dinners and receptions that honor a member of Congress before whom they have pressing business.”
Ehlers Denies Lobbyists Raising Money, but Disclosure Limited
The Grand Rapids Press reported Wednesday that Ehlers’ spokesperson is denying that lobbyists are raising money to pay for Ehlers’ portrait.
Ehlers’ spokesperson, Kevin Chapman, says in The Press that “Vern has strong integrity” and that “He is one of the most independent thinkers in Congress, and he absolutely does not allow fundraising activities to influence his decision-making as a legislator.”
However, the response is essentially one that asks for constituents to simply trust Ehlers. Ehlers is portrayed as a man of integrity, but there is no way to verify that claim. This is especially true because Ehlers’ office is refusing to disclose donors, saying only that 90% are from West Michigan and that “the vast majority of donors to Vern’s portrait fund do not have pressing business before Congress.” Without knowing who the donors are, there is no way to tell if they are influencing legislation.
It’s also worth noting that in the 2008 election cycle, 46% of Ehlers’ campaign funds came from PACs.