Give Back the Money, Joe

That’s what Rep. Joe Sestak, who’s spent nearly all his time since the primary on the defensive, is hearing. It seems that many Democrats have given back money generated by the very ethically challenged Charlie Rangel, but not Sestak:

Republican Senate candidate Pat Toomey and at least two House challengers have made Rangel contributions an issue, calling on Democrats to return the money.

Even Sestak’s most extreme left-wing colleagues are dumping the Rangel cash. But not Sestak — maybe his idea is to let the issue build and build, let free media help his opponent, and then cave. That seems to be pretty much his campaign strategy so far.

And if that were not enough, he’s now fending off attacks about his earmarks:

Rep. Joe Sestak, Pennsylvania’s Democratic nominee for Senate, has reaped at least $119,650 in campaign contributions from employees of companies to which he has steered federal earmarks since 2008, according to public records. There’s nothing illegal — or unusual — on Capitol Hill about the practice of fund-raising from recipients of federal appropriations, but Sestak, a former three-star Navy admiral, has held himself to a higher standard.

The Toomey campaign is mocking Sestak for denying the pledge on his own website that vowed to give back contributions from “an individual or organization [that] has made a request for an appropriations project.” It seems — wow, just like when he denied the language about Israel’s imposing “collective punishment” on Gazans in his own Gaza letter — that Sestak didn’t mean what he said:

Data from the websites Legistorm and Opensecrets, which track earmarks and donations, respectively, shows Sestak kept about $62,000 in donations from senior officials at companies receiving his earmarks. Sestak said he has returned thousands of dollars in similar contributions, but some slipped past. He noted that no rules prevent him from keeping contributions from people who receive federal money. “I guess the lesson is it’s hard to take that extra step,” he said. Sestak said he never intended to publicize his donation-return policy, which appears in his campaign website’s Ethics section. “I just wanted a quiet sense of accountability.”

I imagine Democrats are experiencing a “quiet sense” of panic as they realize they’ve nominated someone who not only has an Israel problem and a Pelosi problem (97.8 percent support, but not “all the time,” mind you) but also an honesty problem. In a year when voters are sick of politicians shirking responsibility and coming up with ludicrous spin, this is potentially a very big problem.