The House ethics committee has closed its investigation into earmarks connected to the PMA Group, concluding that no Members of Congress or their staff exchanged earmarks for campaign contributions with the now-defunct lobbying firm, according to a copy of the report obtained by Roll Call.
The ethics committee report exonerates seven Appropriations Committee members of wrongdoing and concludes there is no evidence that any other Members or staff violated House rules in the earmark probe. The panel, formally known as the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, investigated more than two dozen Members as part of the probe.
After an investigation that the committee says included close to one-quarter of a million pages of documents ... [and] more than 40 companies with ties to PMA and more than 25 Member offices, the committee found no evidence that Members or their official staff considered campaign contributions as a factor when requesting earmarks.
Instead, the committee found that earmarks were evaluated based on criteria independent of campaign contributions, such as the number of jobs created in the Members district or value to the taxpayer or the U.S. military, and without Members or their official staff linking, or being aware that companies may have intended to link, contributions with earmarks.
The PMA Group, one of Washingtons top lobbying firms, shut down a year ago after its offices were raided by the FBI amid allegations of improper campaign donations. PMA and its clients had lavished millions of dollars' worth of campaign contributions on Members of Congress over the past two decades, and the firm had been extremely successful obtaining earmarks for its clients from Members who were receiving donations.
Ethics began an investigation into PMAs earmarks last spring, and the House passed a resolution in June demanding that the committee reveal what it was up to. But the committee never formally responded beyond issuing a statement saying it was looking into the matter. In December, the independent Office of Congressional Ethics recommended to the ethics committee that the panel dismiss inquiries into five appropriators Reps. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), Norm Dicks (D-Wash.), Bill Young (R-Fla.), Jim Moran (D-Va.) and John Murtha (D-Pa.), who died Feb. 8. and suggested further review of Reps. Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.) and Peter Visclosky (D-Ind.).
The report concluded that none of the seven, nor any other Member of the House, violated any rules or ethical guidelines in dealing with PMA and that there is no evidence any House Member was taking campaign donations into account when making decisions about earmarks that benefited PMA clients.
The report notes that Tiahrt and Visclosky were singled out for further review by OCE only because they chose not to sit for interviews under the rules OCE had set out. OCE took this to be a lack of cooperation with the probe, even though both Members provided evidence to investigators, the ethics report states. In neither case did OCE find substantial reason to believe any violation had occurred.
The OCE investigation of Tiahrt appears to revolve around an earmark that Tiahrt never actually requested.
Tiahrt issued a statement Friday saying: Today I received absolute vindication. This comes as no surprise because there was never anything to justify a review in the first place.
Viscloskys office did not immediately return a call requesting comment.
The report apparently puts to rest all ethics committee investigations into the PMA matter. The Justice Department subpoenaed Viscloskys office last year seeking information related to PMA, and that probe appears to be ongoing. In addition, one of PMAs clients, Richard Schaller of Schaller Engineering Inc., was convicted last year of participating in a scheme to skim money from an earmark that Murtha sponsored.
The ethics committee did uncover troubling aspects to PMAs conduct. The report concludes that the lobby firm employed strong-arm tactics, threatening retaliation against Members who did not support their earmarks, and pushed or directed company executives to maximize personal or Political Action Committee campaign contributions and to attend specific fundraisers while pursuing earmarks. But the committee concluded that Members were unaware for the pressure PMA was putting on clients and were unresponsive to threats from the lobbyists.
Sen Mary Landrieu, D-La., poses for a selfie with LSU football fans as she campaigns at tailgate parties on the Louisiana State University campus before the LSU-Mississippi State game on Saturday, Sept. 20, 2014. Buy photo here.