Every private entity that Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) favored with an earmark in this year’s defense bill recently has given political money to the lawmaker, according to an analysis of House Appropriations and federal elections records by Roll Call and Taxpayers for Common Sense.
PACs and employees of those 26 groups together have contributed $413,250 to Murtha since the beginning of 2005. He collected nearly a quarter of the sum — $100,750 — in the two weeks leading up to March 16, the original deadline for lawmakers to file their earmark requests.
As chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, Murtha has unrivaled clout to insert targeted spending measures into the bill. This year, he used it to direct $114.5 million worth of projects, spread over 40 separate earmarks, to the private entities.
Murtha’s record of receiving at least some campaign cash from every one of his private earmark beneficiaries makes him a rare, but not unique, case on the Defense Subcommittee. Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.) also got some political money from each one of the private entities he helped to win federal dollars, the analysis found.
A Murtha spokesman declined to comment, and a spokesman for Dicks did not respond to a request for comment.
Most other members of the 15-person panel recently pocketed campaign donations from the majority of groups they earmarked projects for this year. Democrat Bud Cramer (Ala.), for example, collected donations from 15 of the16 private entities for which he earmarked federal dollars.
Republicans followed a similar pattern. Rep. Bill Young (Fla.) doled out 30 earmarks; he received campaign donations from all but two of those. Rep. David Hobson (Ohio), for example, saw his campaign benefit from donations by11 of the 14 private groups to whom he earmarked funds.
“Campaign contributions are the Congressional earmark cover charge — they’re what you have to pay to get into the party,” said Steve Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense. “While a campaign contribution doesn’t guarantee you an earmark, you won’t get one if you don’t cut a check, at least in Chairman Murtha’s case.”
It’s impossible to know the precise motivations behind each contribution, but at least one contributor said his campaign check had nothing to do with the support his group has received from Murtha.
Tom Kurtz, an executive with Conemaugh Health System, a Johnstown, Pa.-based health care network, said he contributes to Murtha because he believes “in what he does for the community, and more importantly, in what he does for the country.”
Murtha directed $7 million to the center to continue work developing a nerve-
blocking agent for soldiers wounded on the battlefield. “Every time I see him, the first words out of his mouth are, ‘How does this help the soldiers, and is it sustainable, and can it be funded any other way?’” Kurtz said.
Some recipients of Murtha’s appropriations largesse have contributed modest amounts to his coffers. The lawmaker received a single check for $1,000, cut in 2005, from an official at QTL Biosystems, whose Johnstown-area office won a $1 million project this year for a “remote bio-medical detector.” Murtha got one contribution last year for $1,500 from an official at Kongsberg USA, to which he steered $2 million for “protector enhancements and integration on new vehicle platforms.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.