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Ethics Office Closes Inquiry Into Murtha, Dicks and Moran

Updated: 4:56 p.m.

The Office of Congressional Ethics has closed its investigation into Reps. John Murtha (D-Pa.), Norm Dicks (D-Wash.) and Jim Moran (D-Va.) and their relationships to the lobbying firm PMA Group, and the OCE advised against a formal House ethics investigation, the lawmakers’ offices said Friday.

George Behan, Dicks’ chief of staff, said the OCE, which reviews potential rules violations and refers investigations to the House ethics committee, informed the Washington lawmaker on Dec. 2 that it had recommended the inquiry be dismissed.

“In his case, there was never anything there,— Behan said.

Murtha spokesman Matt Mazonkey and Moran spokeswoman Emily Blout confirmed their respective lawmakers received similar letters.

“The Board of the Office of Congressional Ethics recommends that the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct dismiss the above allegations,— the OCE report issued to Moran’s office states. The one-page document indicates the board made a unanimous vote, 6 to 0.

According to the report, the OCE examined earmarks that Moran designated for PMA clients in fiscal 2009, as well as contributions that he received during the 2008 and 2010 cycles from PMA’s political action committee and its employees, and from PMA clients and their PACs.

The OCE report states that it reviewed whether Moran could have violated federal bribery, gratuity and gift statutes, as well as House rules.

“I appreciate the panel’s thorough investigation and carefully considered and unanimous decision to dismiss what were from the outset baseless charges. If the vindication and dismissal of the matter gets one-tenth of the visibility that the allegation assumed, I’ll be pleased,— Moran said in a statement.

The OCE has never publicly confirmed its investigation into PMA, but a confidential ethics document leaked in October showed the office reviewing seven lawmakers — Dicks, Murtha and Moran, as well as Reps. Peter Visclosky (D-Ind.), Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.) and Bill Young (R-Fla.) — in the matter.

According to a copy of that document published on the Web site, the OCE investigation focused on whether Members accepted contributions or other items of value from PMA’s PAC in exchange for official acts.

PMA employees and clients were leading donors to Murtha, Visclosky, Moran, Dicks and other appropriators, and received multiple earmarks from these and other Members.

Ethics committee leaders acknowledge a document leak in October but have not confirmed the authenticity of the Wikileaks-published document. The Committee on Standards on Official Conduct — as the ethics panel is formally known — announced its own review of PMA in June but has not named any lawmakers under review to date or even which House rules infractions it is examining.

Although the OCE did not recommended further review of Murtha and Dicks, the ethics committee could nonetheless opt to continue its own investigation or to pursue information provided by the OCE.

Under ethics committee rules, the panel has up to 90 days — a mandatory 45-day period and an optional 45-day extension — to review the OCE’s recommendation and make its own decision.

Ethics panel Staff Director Blake Chisam declined to comment for this story, stating: “The committee does not comment on matters that may or may not be before it.—

In either event, the ethics committee would have broader authority to review PMA-related matters.

The OCE is prohibited from reviewing allegations that occurred prior to March 2008, when House lawmakers established the office. The ethics committee is allowed to review any actions within the most recent three Congressional cycles.

In addition, the ethics committee has subpoena power to compel testimony and documents, which the OCE does not.

It is not known whether OCE has recommended further investigation in the case of other lawmakers named in the leaked ethics report. None of those offices immediately returned telephone calls Friday afternoon.

FBI agents raided the defense appropriations-focused PMA in November 2008, reportedly as part of an investigation into improper campaign contributions.

Visclosky had previously confirmed in May that his offices and aides had been subpoenaed by federal investigators examining the Indiana lawmaker’s relationship with PMA.

Paul Singer contributed to this report.

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