Oregon Congressman David Wu is under fire for a $2 million Congressional earmark to a company that makes T-shirts for U.S. Marines.
The polyester shirts that disperse sweat appeared ideal for soldiers in Iraq. But the shirts could melt when a blast goes off nearby.
As Colin Fogarty reports, company that made the shirts gave generously to Wu’s re-election campaign.
The Seattle Times first reported that in 2006, executives at InSport International – a clothing maker once located in Beaverton – gave nearly $9000 to Congressman David Wu’s re-election campaign. The donations came around the same time Wu and several other lawmakers arranged for InSport to get a $2 million military contract.
The company made polyester T-shirts that dispersed sweat quickly. In 2006, Congress was getting a lot of criticism for earmarks, special appropriations aimed at pet items. But in January of that year, Wu stood at a press conference with InSport executives and was unapologetic about this earmark.
David Wu: "The only reason to do the job that I’m doing today is to try to make a difference. And I think these earmarks, these are positive differences for the lives of Oregonians and the lives of all Americans."
But as it turns out, polyester T-shirts melt in extreme heat, the kind generated by IED’s, the improvised explosive devices that are so common in Iraq. The Marines worry a melting shirt can leave an already injured soldier with severe burns. So the Marines only use the shirts for training.
David Wu: "The technology works if IED’s aren’t going off around you."
But he remains unapologetic about the InSport earmark and says he wears the shirts himself. Wu also says there was no connection between the political contributions and the Congressional earmark.
David Wu: "We live in cynical times when people make the worst assumptions. There are a lot of people who ask for appropriations. The vast majority never donate, never consider donating."
Congressman Wu says he can’t remember when his staff told him there was a problem with the InSport shirts. He did say that he did not know there was a problem when he was standing at that press conference defending the earmark to InSport.
But later, Wu’s press secretary Jillian Schoene said the Congressman’s office learned of the problem in the summer of 2005, six months before that press conference. Schoene says the Congressman simply didn’t remember correctly when he heard that the Marines were only using the InSport polyester T-shirts only for training, and not in battle.
InSport International’s parent company Vital Apparel did not comment on the story -- other than to say it closed its Oregon office about a year ago.