Facing a surprisingly tough re-election challenge in the closing days of his 2008 campaign, Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) called on a well-established network of his earmarking beneficiaries to bail him out. And the defense industry contractors, several of whom had pulled down millions of dollars in Murtha earmarks in the 2009 defense spending bill, responded by flooding his coffers with what amounted to rescue cash.
The Defense appropriations cardinals more than $1 million haul in the last two weeks of the campaign included about $40,000 from employees of nine contractors that together received $60.6 million in targeted projects from Murtha last year, according to an analysis of Federal Election Commission records and House Appropriations Committee documents.
Four of those companies are clients of the PMA Group Inc., a lobbying firm founded by a former top Murtha aide that has emerged in recent years as a leading source of the lawmakers campaign funds. Altogether, PMA employees and their clients contributed more than $110,000 in the final two weeks of the campaign. And while many of those outfits have operations in Murthas western Pennsylvania district, nine out of every 10 of their checks dropped in from outside the state.
Murthas fundraising activity is receiving fresh scrutiny in the wake of news that federal agents on Thursday raided the offices of two Pennsylvania contractors with ties to the powerful chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense.
The FBI and other federal agencies raided the offices of Kuchera Defense Systems and its sister company, Kuchera Industries Inc., as well as the homes of two top executives, brothers Ron and Bill Kuchera. The companies claim long ties to Murtha, providing him more than $60,000 in campaign contributions since 2002 and winning millions of dollars in special projects from the veteran lawmaker, including $6.5 million for two projects last year, committee documents show.
It is not yet clear whether last weeks raid was aimed at Murtha or whether it signals a wider look into his activities.
Murtha has long been a force in the House thanks to his perch directing Pentagon funding from the Appropriations Committee, leveraging the position to dole out favors to fellow lawmakers and direct hundreds of millions of dollars to his economically struggling Rust Belt district. His success in funneling federal dollars back home granted him a seemingly unshakable grip on the district for years since he first won the seat in 1974 and prior to the past election, his re-election margin had dipped below 60 percent only twice.
But Murtha ran into trouble in mid-October when he said some of his constituents were racists and rednecks. He apologized for the remarks, but the National Republican Congressional Committee invested in attack ads highlighting them. Murthas poll numbers started to slump, and for the first time in a generation, he appeared vulnerable.
Murtha fought back with a fundraising blitz to bankroll a last-minute campaign offensive that ultimately paid off. He defeated Republican challenger William Russell 58 percent to 42 percent to secure a 19th term.