Murtha Acknowledges He Is Subject of Ethics Inquiry

Posted November 1, 2009 at 1:00pm

After years of allegations that he improperly lavishes federal dollars on local supporters and campaign donors, Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense Chairman John Murtha (D-Pa.) acknowledged for the first time last week that ethics investigators are looking into his earmarks.After the Washington Post disclosed a leaked list of Members being investigated by the House ethics committee, formally known as the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, and the Office of Congressional Ethics — including seven members of the Defense subcommittee — Murtha spokesman Matt Mazonkey said, “Our office has also been contacted by the Office of Congressional Ethics, and it goes without saying that we will cooperate fully with any inquiries that they have.—Murtha has for years been the focus of allegations of earmark abuse. He is unashamed about having attracted hundreds of millions of dollars worth of appropriations earmarks to his district, and many of the beneficiaries of his largess have filled his campaign coffers with donations. But Murtha has always argued that there is no connection between his earmarks and the contributions; he has argued he was simply trying to create economic activity in his district. The Pennsylvania Democrat has not been charged with any wrongdoing, and he has not tapped into his campaign account to spend thousands of dollars on lawyers, as have other Members named on the ethics investigations list.The OCE is apparently investigating earmarks provided by the Appropriations Committee as a follow up to the FBI raid last year of the PMA Group lobbying firm. PMA employees and clients were leading donors to Murtha, Rep. Peter Visclosky (D-Ind.), Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), Rep. Norman Dicks (D-Wash.) and other appropriators, and received multiple earmarks from these and other Members. The other Members have also acknowledged being contacted by investigators.The House passed a resolution earlier this year asking the ethics committee to look into the PMA earmarks, though at this point it appears the OCE has taken the lead on the matter.The document leaked to the Washington Post was a July summary of activities, and the OCE operates under a deadline of about 90 days for making a referral to the ethics committee with a recommendation to dismiss or pursue a fuller investigation. The ethics panel then has about 45 days to decide whether to create a subcommittee to investigate the matter, which generally results in a public announcement.Given those timelines, the OCE deadline for reporting to the ethics panel on Murtha and the other Defense appropriators is likely fast approaching, and the ethics panel is likely to have to announce before Christmas whether it plans a full investigation of the Members.The document leaked to the Washington Post also indicated that the Justice Department had asked the ethics committee to suspend any investigation of Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.), typical in cases where the Justice Department engaged in its own investigation. While the FBI raided the offices of the PMA Group and has served subpoenas on Visclosky’s office, it apparently as of July had not asked the ethics panel to suspend review of Murtha and the other defense appropriators. When Justice does make such a request, the ethics panel typically announces that it is suspending its work, and no such announcement has been made on the Members whose earmarks are under scrutiny.