WASHINGTON — Republicans took another swing at Sen. Harry Reid on Monday, challenging earmarks the Democrat obtained for a Las Vegas engineering services firm whose family owners have donated to his campaigns.
Harry Reid Votes, an anti-Reid group led by former U.S. Senate candidate Danny Tarkanian, questioned the relationship between Reid and Arcata Associates, a small contractor that employs 414 people and is led by members of the Wong family of Las Vegas.
The most recent earmark came after the Army said it was no longer seeking money for the defense project.
A Reid campaign spokesman said the Republican attack "is a stretch."
Tim Wong, the company’s president, said there was no quid pro quo relationship between Reid and the firm, which was founded by his father, Buck Wong, in 1979.
Arcata Associates "has been a strong member of the Las Vegas business community for over 30 years," Wong said. "During that time, we have contributed to the campaigns of countless local, state and federal candidates of both parties who we believe can most effectively represent the people and businesses of this state, including Senator Reid."
Reid arranged a $1.36 million earmark for the company’s Continuous Threat Alerting Sensing System in a 2010 defense spending bill and recently announced that a $2 million earmark is in a pending 2011 defense bill. The latest effort comes despite the Army declaring in February that it was not seeking additional funds for the project.
Reid is an active defender of congressional earmarks, and spokesman Jon Summers said his effort was to help a long-standing Nevada company.
Arcata "is a Nevada business that has been working with the Defense Department since before Senator Harry Reid was elected to Congress," Summers said. "They started in Southern Nevada and have expanded to having 450 employees nationwide, many of them still in Las Vegas, where they’re headquartered."
Wong said the company contacted Reid and other Nevada lawmakers for help promoting the surveillance system, which uses missile defense technology in low-cost ground sensors.
"We strongly believe (the system) will be of considerable value to our nation’s defense," he said.
Republicans criticized Reid for steering contracts to donors, although nothing illegal was alleged.
"Everything is completely legal, but it is questionable when you see money earmarked for a project that couldn’t be funded through normal channels based on merit," said Audrey Mullen, a spokeswoman for Harry Reid Votes.
Tarkanian launched the group in a bid to support the candidacy of Republican and Reid challenger Sharron Angle.
The Wong family has contributed more than $300,000 to a variety of political figures and groups from both parties since 1986, according to federal election figures calculated by CQ Moneyline.
Reid’s campaign and his political action committee received $34,400. Tim Wong is on the steering committee of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders for Harry Reid, an arm of Reid’s re-election effort.
Among others, the Nevada State Democratic Party received $20,050, while the state Republican Party got $3,500. Republican Sen. John Ensign received $14,425. Gov. and former Rep. Jim Gibbons, a Republican, was given $3,000. Former Republican Rep. Barbara Vucanovich got $4,950.
Wong family members have donated $29,250 to Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley and $3,500 to Democratic Rep. Dina Titus.
The Angle campaign criticized Reid, saying that taking campaign contributions "from the same company that he is sponsoring earmarks on behalf of is very disturbing."