Investigators are taking a close look at a Democratic congressman known as "The Prince of Pork" who is really bringing home the bacon to voters in his West Virginia district.
For instance, there is the arts and craft store in the remote town of Thomas, W. Va., part of the MountainMade Foundation, which relies far more on federal taxpayers than on sales. This year, the congressman in question, Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-W.Va., got the store $2.2 million.
"Everything in this gallery was made by an artist who lives in West Virginia," said Kate McComas, the store manager, who said she is happy to contribute to Mollohan's re-election.
"I contributed $1,000," McComas said.
Critics see a connection between campaign contributions and groups who benefited from federal funds. The Canaan Valley Institute received $71 million. The Alan B. Mollohan Innovation Center received $39 million. The Vandalia Heritage Foundation got $28 million. And $108 million went to the Institute for Scientific Research.
"It's an endless loop of this funding of federal taxpayer dollars going out and campaign contribution dollars coming back," said Steve Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense.
What makes Mollohan different is that the FBI is investigating him and the groups he enriched through taxpayer dollars. Those dollars provided lucrative contracts and high salaries for Mollohan's supporters.
Investigators want to know whether, in return, those supporters helped Mollohan become a multimillionaire.
Mollohan is part-owner of $2 million worth of property on a North Carolina island. He also owns part of a luxury apartment building in Washington. A conservative research group says much of the new wealth was never declared on financial disclosure forms.
"There are criminal penalties under the federal False Statements Accountability Act if mistakes are willful, knowing and material, and in this case he hid millions of dollars worth of assets," said Ken Boehm of the National Legal and Policy Center.
Mollohan says he inadvertently misstated some transactions, but insists he did nothing illegal. He takes pride in his nickname and is proud of bringing in $500 million over the past 10 years.
"I'm proud of the efforts we've undertaken for the first congressional district of West Virginia," Mollohan said. "If being the 'Prince of Pork' merits that designation, then I'm proud of that. Yeah."