A Republican congressional candidate who has spoken against federal stimulus spending said in an interview Thursday that he had “not a clue” that $370,000 he received for plumbing projects in recent years came from the government-backed spending program.
Markwayne Mullin, who has made reining in federal spending a centerpiece of his campaign, said in an interview with The Associated Press that contracts awarded through the Cherokee and Muscogee (Creek) nations were competitively bid and that he was unaware a federal program he has criticized was the source of the money.
“We didn’t know,” Mullin told the AP in a telephone interview. “We send out bids every day. We’ve got 120 employees we’ve got to keep busy. We got paid for doing the work through the Cherokee Nation. We worked for the Cherokee Nation.”
Mullin, the owner and CEO of Mullin Plumbing and its subsidiaries, is a registered member of the Cherokee Nation and because of that his company qualifies to receive preferential treatment during the bid process through the Nation’s Tribal Employment Rights Office, said tribal spokeswoman Amanda Clinton. That procedure is standard under Cherokee Nation law and the tribe’s internal policy.
Data posted on www.recovery.org, a government website created to track recovery funds, shows Mullin Plumbing had five separate contracts totaling $335,000 for plumbing work awarded by the Cherokee Nation on two separate projects to construct affordable housing in eastern Oklahoma. A Mullin Plumbing subsidiary, Mullin Pumping, also was awarded $34,700 contract on a separate housing project by the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.
All the projects were funded by federal stimulus money administered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Mullin said he “totally disagrees” with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 that provided funding for the projects, but defended his company’s right to compete for the work. He also said he may not have submitted a bid if he had known the money came from the federal stimulus package.
He said his biggest concern with the federal stimulus is that it involved the government borrowing money.
“If you’re going to give the shirt off your back, make sure it’s your shirt to give,” he said.
Rob Wallace, Mullin’s Democratic opponent in the race for the open 2nd Congressional seat, has called it “hypocritical” for Mullin to accept stimulus funding he openly opposes.
Wallace campaign manager Kyle Gott on Thursday called for Mullin to return the money to taxpayers.
“If he truly believes that the $370,000 he got from taxpayers was a horrible waste of tax dollars, then he should return his stimulus money to the taxpayers immediately,” Gott said. “Otherwise voters of Oklahoma will know that Mullin is fine with a ‘horrible waste of tax dollars’ as long as Mullin is the one pocketing taxpayer money.”
Mullin campaign manager Tim Ross said Mullin Plumbing has no intention of returning any money.
“Mullin Plumbing performed work for the Cherokee families and was paid by the Cherokee Nation, so Mullin Plumbing won’t be returning money for plumbing work it completed,” Ross said.
Wallace and Mullin are vying to replace retiring Democratic U.S. Rep. Dan Boren in Oklahoma’s sprawling 2nd District, which stretches across 26 counties from the state’s northern border with Kansas and Missouri south to the Red River. Boren currently is the only Democrat in the state’s congressional delegation.