In Backing Murtha, Pelosi Draws Fire

Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) has been a longtime backer of Rep. Nancy Pelosi.
Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) has been a longtime backer of Rep. Nancy Pelosi. (Carol T. Powers - Bloomberg News)
By Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 14, 2006

House Speaker-designate Nancy Pelosi's endorsement of Rep. John P. Murtha's bid for House majority leader set off a furor yesterday on Capitol Hill, with critics charging that she is undercutting her pledge to clean up corruption by backing a veteran lawmaker who they say has repeatedly skirted ethical boundaries.

Pelosi (D-Calif.) directly intervened in the heated contest between Murtha (D-Pa.) and House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) on Sunday by circulating a letter to Democratic lawmakers. The letter voiced her support for Murtha and put her prestige on the line in a closely fought leadership battle. Some Democratic lawmakers and watchdog groups say they are baffled that Pelosi would go out of her way to back Murtha's candidacy after pledging to make the new 110th Congress the most ethical and corruption-free in history.

Murtha, a longtime senior Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, has battled accusations over the years that he has traded federal spending for campaign contributions, that he has abused his post as ranking party member on the Appropriations defense subcommittee, and that he has stood in the way of ethics investigations. Those charges come on top of Murtha's involvement 26 years ago in the FBI's Abscam bribery sting.

"Pelosi's endorsement suggests to me she was interested in the culture of corruption only as a campaign issue and has no real interest in true reform," said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a Democratic-leaning group. "It is shocking to me that someone with [Murtha's] ethics problems could be number two in the House leadership."

"People have known about these things for months," said one Democratic House member who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he did not want to anger the presumed incoming speaker. "I am sure they are going to become much more important in the next few days."

Andrew Koneschusky, a spokesman for Murtha, declined to discuss ethics issues, saying: "We are focused on the future. We are focused on electing the best candidate to lead our party and deliver the change the American people want, and that is Jack Murtha. We are looking forward, not backward."

Pelosi said in her letter that she was swayed to endorse Murtha, a longtime ally, by his early call for a withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq. Pelosi aides and Murtha supporters said the charges against him are trivial or untrue. A senior Pelosi aide conceded that her endorsement is risky but said that she had to show her loyalty to Murtha, who has been steadfastly loyal to her.

As for the ethics issue, "there's no substance to it," said Rep. Linda T. Sanchez (D-Calif.), a strong supporter of Murtha.

At issue is Murtha's relationships with two defense lobbyists. Paul Magliocchetti of the PMA Group is a former aide to the lawmaker, and Robert "Kit" Murtha is his brother and was a senior partner at KSA Consulting from 2002 to 2005.

The PMA Group has become the go-to firm to approach Murtha as ranking Democrat on the Appropriations defense subcommittee, CREW charges. In the 2006 defense appropriations bill, PMA clients reaped at least 60 special provisions, or "earmarks," worth more than $95 million.

The PMA Group and its clients have been top campaign contributors for Murtha: $274,649 in the 2006 campaign cycle, $236,799 in the 2004 cycle and $279,074 in the 2002 cycle, according to CREW's tallies.

After Kit Murtha joined KSA Consulting in 2002, one of his first clients was a wireless networking company called Aeptec Microsystems Inc., which was seeking to build a business complex in Murtha's district with a Pennsylvania state grant. Aeptec executive Michael Hoban contributed $2,000 to Murtha's campaign that year.

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