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Ethics Report: Campaign Money Didn’t Buy Murtha Earmarks

A House ethics committee report released Friday indicated that the late Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) knew companies believed donating to his campaigns would increase their chances of getting an earmark, but he had no knowledge of who donated and his earmark requests were handled by staff with no knowledge of campaign finances.

Murtha, who died Feb. 8 from complications related to gall bladder surgery, was considered at the center of an investigation into the now-defunct PMA Group lobbying firm, in part because of his relationship with the founder of the company, Paul Magliocchetti. Magliocchetti had been a staffer on the Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense in the 1980s when Murtha was a member of the panel, and the ethics report indicates that the two had close personal ties.

PMA clients and employees were huge donors to Murtha’s campaigns, and as the ranking member and later chairman of the subcommittee, he provided millions of dollars worth of earmarks to defense contractors represented by PMA.

But an investigation conducted by the independent Office of Congressional Ethics late last year concluded that Murtha kept a strict wall between his fundraising and campaign staff and his official Congressional operations. The OCE report — which was released by the House ethics committee Friday as part of a broader report dismissing all allegations of impropriety in House Members’ dealings with PMA — concluded, “There is not substantial reason to believe the Representative Murtha solicited or accepted contributions or other items of value in exchange for or because of an official act, or solicited or accepted contributions or other items of value in a manner which gave the appearance that the contributions were linked to an official act.”

In investigating seven members of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, the OCE collected documents and information from 38 companies that had been clients of PMA and six former employees of the firm.

PMA disbanded a year ago after the FBI raided the company in an apparent investigation of improper campaign contributions.

The OCE also interviewed Murtha and several of his key staffers, all of whom concurred that Murtha knew nothing of who was donating to his campaigns.

According to the OCE report, Murtha told investigators in November “that he knew some companies thought that contributing to his campaign might increase the liklihood of receiving an earmark, but the reality is that he often did not even recognize the individuals who attend his fundraisers.”

The OCE report on Murtha, as with the other Members, includes e-mails and other evidence that companies that were donating to Members’ campaigns clearly believed they were buying access to the Member or ensuring favorable treatment for their earmark requests — a belief that PMA apparently encouraged.

But in a five-page report on the PMA matter — which serves as the cover material for the reports on individual Members complied by the OCE — the ethics committee, formally known as the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, concluded that Murtha and other Members did not consider campaign donations in deciding whether to support an earmark.

The investigation “did find that there is a widespread perception among corporations and lobbyists that campaign contributions provide enhanced access to Members or greater chance of obtaining earmarks,” the report concludes. “However, the record indicates that Members, by and large, take great care to separate their official and campaign functions, particularly with respect to earmark requests.”

The OCE investigations of the seven appropriators only reached back to 2008 because of statutory limits on the OCE’s authority.

It is not clear how much further the ethics committee investigated.

The OCE also pointed out that it does not have the authority to issue subpoenas and was unable to obtain documents in the possession of PMA.

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