- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 17, 2011

Some of the nation’s top defense contractors have helped sponsor an annual congressional charity tennis tournament in the nation’s capital that is a pet project of Rep. Norm Dicks, senior Democrat on the House Appropriations defense subcommittee.

The Washington state lawmaker is an avid tennis player and helped create the tournament, in which corporate sponsors and invited members of Congress can play tennis with professional tennis legends while raising money for charity.

Mr. Dicks, who at one time described himself as the third best tennis player in Congress, helped push for a 7,500-seat tennis stadium in the late 1980s in Rock Creek Park on National Park Service land for one of the two beneficiaries of the tournament, the Washington Tennis & Education Foundation (WTEF).

Northrop Grumman Corp., the country’s second-largest defense contractor, spent $25,000 as one of two top sponsors of the 2010 tournament in September, which it said was to honor Mr. Dicks, according to House lobbying records. General Dynamics Corp., the nation’s No. 5 defense contractor, was the other top sponsor, but a company spokesman declined to specify how much money it gave.

Both firms have given previously to the annual event, with General Dynamics’ donations dating back to 2006, according to the spokesman.

Dicks spokesman George Behan said the congressman “adheres to all the ethics rules” and added that Mr. Dicks does not solicit contributions for charities.

At the time of the 2010 tournament, Mr. Dicks was chairman of the powerful House Appropriations defense subcommittee, which oversees billions of dollars in funding for the Defense Department, including the Army, Navy and Air Force, and the CIA. After Republicans took control of the House in January, he became the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee and its parent, the House Appropriations Committee.

Other top defense firms that have given to the tournament through the years include Lockheed Martin Corp., the No. 1 defense contractor, and Boeing Co., No. 3. Other donors include the Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC), No. 7, as well as the PMA Group, a now defunct lobbying firm whose owner, former superlobbyist Paul Magliocchetti, was sentenced in January to 27 months in prison on his guilty plea of making hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal campaign contributions.

Magliocchetti had specialized in getting his clients Defense Department earmarks, including ones from Mr. Dicks and other subcommittee members. Mr. Dicks, a subcommittee member since 1979, became the subcommittee’s top Democrat early last year after the death of Rep. John P. Murtha of Pennsylvania, its longtime chairman.

The PMA Group

The Washington Times reported last month that the Congressional Charity Tennis Classic (CCTC), a nonprofit group that ran the annual tournament through 2008, received $49,250 from 2005 through 2008 from the PMA Group, according to a list of charitable donations Magliocchetti submitted to the court in an effort to get a reduced sentence.

Mr. Dicks obtained five earmarks in fiscal 2008 and four in fiscal 2009 for PMA’s clients worth $20.9 million, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense, a watchdog group.

Mr. Dicks also has used his official position to help the WTEF get the National Park Service to expedite approvals for the group’s 7,500-seat tennis stadium and tennis center in Rock Creek Park, according to news accounts. He has long sat on and eventually chaired the Appropriations Committee’s interior subcommittee, which controls the Park Service’s budget.

In 1991, he helped set aside $400,000 in the 1992 federal budget for the privately owned stadium to help with handicapped-accessibility changes.

“It is not a coincidence that defense contractors are giving to a charity favored by Norm Dicks,” said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a nonprofit government watchdog. “They need Norm Dicks. They want to please him.

“It is another way to curry favor with important members of Congress,” said Ms. Sloan, a former federal prosecutor. She said that at least this charity was supporting a worthy cause.

Mr. Dicks, whose congressional district is home to Boeing, the largest employer in Washington state, has been nicknamed “Mr. Boeing” for his efforts on the company’s behalf.

In 1997, Mr. Dicks helped set up the CCTC. He was listed as a director on corporation reports filed in Virginia throughout that period. Mr. Dicks also was listed as a director on the group’s federal 990 tax returns.

For much of the time, according to records, Mr. Dicks was one of a handful of directors along with former Sen. John Breaux, Louisiana Democrat, who became a lobbyist after retiring from the Senate in 2005, and Ken Bowler, once the top lobbyist for Pfizer Inc., the pharmaceutical giant. Mr. Bowler currently is a health care lobbyist.

Neither Mr. Breaux nor Mr. Bowler returned phone messages for comment.

The tennis classic raised money for the WTEF, which runs an academic and tennis program for underprivileged children, and the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center in Baltimore, the only comprehensive cancer facility in Maryland doing both research and treatment.

The classic raised between $150,000 and $200,000 annually from sponsors, then wrote a check to the two charities - after paying tournament expenses, such as rent and fees. Each group got $30,000 in 2007 and $50,000 in 2008, according to interviews. They both received an additional $25,000 in 2009 from funds left over from the 2008 event.

The WTEF website shows a photo of Mr. Dicks handing over a check from the tournament to WTEF executives in 2007.

Officials from the WTEF did not respond to telephone calls for comment or to written questions. A Kimmel Center spokesman said it had received more than $500,000 from the tournament since 1997, but no longer was involved.

No longer interested

James Ryan, a CCTC attorney, said the group no longer sponsors the tournament and is in the process of shutting down the corporation because there was “no longer an interest” in hosting it. He would not identify the corporate sponsors beyond what was in the public record.

The CCTC, on its public tax returns, said it raised $153,500 in 2008 from nine sponsors whom it was not required to name publicly. The donations ranged from $5,000 to $25,000.

In 2009, the WTEF took over the tournament and changed its name to the WTEF Congressional Charity Tournament but continued to hold it in September at the Washington Golf and Country Club in Arlington. Mr. Breaux, a vice president of the WTEF board, has sent out fundraising letters, and Mr. Dicks has participated in the tournament. All the proceeds now go to the WTEF.

The 2010 tournament ran nearly all day and featured an hourlong morning session to give the corporate sponsors and lawmakers a chance for one-on-one playing time with the tennis legends. That was followed by lunch and photo opportunities for the sponsors with the tennis professionals and the elected officials, according to an invitation from Mr. Breaux.

The tennis legends were Owen Davidson, winner of eight grand-slam titles; Fred Stolle, who won 12 grand-slam titles; Tom Gorman, former captain of the U.S. Davis Cup team; Kathy Rinaldi, who played in 13 Wimbledon championships; Virginia Wade, winner of seven championships; Zina Garrison, gold medalist at the 1988 Olympic Games; and Fred McNair, winner of three grand-slam titles.

Mr. Dicks is in the group photo of those who participated in the tournament.

The WTEF has not posted a list of sponsors for the 2010 event, but on its website it thanks its “top sponsors” Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics. Listed among WTEF’s “event sponsors” in 2009 are Northrop Grumman and Boeing, both of which gave $25,000, and General Dynamics and Lockheed Martin, which contributed between $10,000 and $13,000. In an e-mail, SAIC confirmed that it gave $10,000 in 2010, 2009 and 2008.

Boeing, Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics and the PMA Group were listed among the sponsors in 2008, according to the WTEF website.

A Lockheed Martin spokesman said the company donated to the tournament each year from 2006 to 2010, noting that the money went to support the WTEF and the Kimmel center.

“Lockheed Martin’s support of this event is one of the many charitable contributions we make each year in our community,” the spokesman said.

Gone to bat

Mr. Dicks has gone to bat for Boeing repeatedly on Defense Department contracts. According to an Office of Congressional Ethics report, a Dicks aide told house investigators looking at Defense earmarks that “Rep. Dicks had a strong affinity for Boeing.”

Boeing spokesman Sean McCormack declined to give the specific amounts of the company’s donations to the tournament but said it had been supporting the tournament since 2006. “We have a number of charities we sponsor over the course of a year,’ Mr. McCormack said. “We evaluate them on the merits.”

Representatives of Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics made similar statements, adding that it was not unusual for Congress members to be involved in charities in Washington, D.C.

“We support a number of endeavors like this, that since it is the nation’s capital there is often a level of congressional involvement,” said Rob Doolittle of General Dynamics.

Northrop Grumman, which said it gave $10,000 for the tournament in 2007 in addition to $25,000 in 2009 and 2010, hired Mr. Breaux as one of its lobbyists in 2008.

• Chuck Neubauer can be reached at cneubauer@washingtontimes.com.

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