Lawmaker under fire for Marine T-shirt order
By Sarah Skidmore - The Associated PressPosted : Wednesday Oct 17, 2007 5:41:17 EDT
PORTLAND, Ore. — Oregon Rep. David Wu fought criticism Monday following a report in the Seattle Times that he got the U.S. Marines to buy shirts that can melt in battle, causing severe burns.
The Times reported on the T-shirts Sunday as part of a story about the links between campaign contributions and earmarks, which are appropriations lawmakers tack on to spending bills that often benefit specific companies or organizations.
“These are difficult, cynical times and frequently people look for the worst,” the Democrat told the Associated Press Monday.
Wu helped get a $2 million earmark in the 2006 budget for InSport, a Beaverton company in his district. The report found InSport, parent company Vital Apparel and executives from both companies donated more than $7,000 to Wu.
But a year after the earmark was set, the Marines banned polyester T-shirts for use in combat after finding the fabric melts in intense heat, adhering to the skin.
“This essentially creates a second skin and can lead to horrific, disfiguring burns,” Capt. Lynn E. Welling, the 1st Marine Logistics Group head surgeon, who conducted research in Iraq, told the Seattle Times.
After the ban, Wu inserted another $1 million earmark into the next defense bill to make the Marines buy the InSport shirts again, the Times reported, noting the company was working to develop a heat-resistant shirt for combat use.
The Oregon congressman and the company denied any wrongdoing Monday.
Wu, who noted that no InSport shirts have melted on a soldier, said he wasn’t aware of the problem until his staff brought it to his attention, which was after the $2 million contract was in place.
The ban on synthetic fabrics took place in the middle of the purchasing process, InSport said. The company said the Marines decided to use the product for training instead.
InSport has worked with the military for about a decade, InSport spokesman David Costello said. The Marines have since gone on to buy other products from the company without earmarks, although the company did not win the bid to provide the fire-resistant T-shirts.
Both InSport and Wu said there was no link between the reported earmarks and campaign contributions.
“There are a lot of people who ask me for earmarks and the vast majority do not give campaign contributions,” Wu said. “There is no link.”
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