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Lemieux earmark part of 18th District debate

| Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012, 12:10 a.m.
U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy delivers the keynote address at a ribbon cutting ceremony at the Private Industry Council near Greensburg on Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2012. Brian F. Henry | Tribune-Review
JASMINE GOLDBAND
Washington County Commissioner Larry Maggi. Photographed Thursday, February 23, 2012. (Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review) JLG LarryMaggi.jpg
U.S. Congressman Tim Murphy delivers the keynote address at a ribbon cutting address at the Private Industry Council near Greensburg on Tuesday, October 9, 2012. Brian F. Henry | Tribune-Review

The challenger for Republican Congressman Tim Murphy's 18th District seat in the November election is criticizing the incumbent's $100,000 earmark in 2010 for a charity founded by Mario Lemieux.

Washington County Commissioner Larry Maggi said on Tuesday that he would never give taxpayers' money to celebrity charities — not when there's a $16 trillion federal deficit and too many Americans need jobs.

“Tim Murphy has a history of saying one thing and doing another, which is why he campaigns against earmarks and gave taxpayer money to a lobster institute in Maine and $50,000 for a mule museum in California,” said Maggi, a Democrat, retired Pennsylvania State trooper and former Washington County sheriff.

The Tribune-Review reported on the Murphy earmark to Lemieux's charity as part of its “Unlevel Playing Field” investigation on Sunday, which revealed current and former athletes such as Penguins co-owner Lemieux, Baltimore Orioles iron man Cal Ripken Jr., multimillionaire tennis star Andre Agassi and billionaire golfer Tiger Woods received millions in taxpayer dollars for their charities.

Murphy and his campaign staffers didn't return messages seeking comment for the stories, so the Trib met the congressman at a ribbon-cutting ceremony Tuesday for the new classrooms at Greensburg's Private Industry Council.

Murphy refused to discuss his other earmarks since arriving in Washington in 2002, but defended the Centers for Disease Control earmark to help fund Lemieux's anti-cancer campaign — even when the cancer survivor's foundation reported having more than $2.4 million in private donations of its own to spend.

“That's not an issue,” said Murphy. “It was helping people with cancer.”

Maggi agreed that Lemieux's charity, which also built five children's playrooms in medical facilities around the region, is a “great cause.” However, Maggi said deficit spending shouldn't have funded it. Maggi lost his wife, Ceridwen, to cancer in 1989. Doctors found a tumor roped around her spine while she was pregnant with their son, Ian Lawrence. The baby died two weeks after being born.

In the GOP primary in April, Tea Party member Evan Feinberg snatched 37 percent of the Republican vote after relentlessly drilling Murphy on the incumbent's spending.

An analysis of legislative earmarks from 2008-10 performed by the nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics found 61 percent of Murphy's earmarks went to campaign donors — fourth highest in the 111th Congress.

A self-imposed moratorium on earmark spending has ruled Congress for the past two years.

There's no record of Lemieux or his family contributing to Murphy's campaign. The Trib investigation found that Lemieux's charity has spent $202,763 on lobbyists to help obtain more than $500,000 in state and federal grants since 2004.

The Trib also found a needy charity that tirelessly spreads the message about cancer – without the help of lobbyists, celebrity athletes or large government grants. Patients Against Lymphoma pays its full-time president, Karl Schwartz of Bucks County, $18,000 annually out of a budget that's never crested above $45,000. Because the nonprofit counsels patients about treatment trials and frets about the appearance of impropriety, it's refused health industry help since its founding in 2002.

Schwartz didn't know that the CDC and other agencies were handing out $100,000 grants to alert the public about lymphoma. The nonprofit reports 8,000 subscribers to its online forums on cancer survivor issues and 50,000 unique visitors arrive monthly to check out its “Lymphomation” website.

“We're struggling,” said Schwartz. “I don't even have the resources to travel to Washington, much less hire a lobbyist.”

Carl Prine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7826 or cprine@tribweb.com.

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