A Dec. 25 article incorrectly identified Jim Estep, a board member of the Pennsylvania Association for Individuals With Disabilities, as the same Jim Estep who heads the West Virginia High-Technology Consortium Foundation and the Institute for Scientific Research. The Jim Estep on the board of directors of PAID is a real estate agent in Ebensburg, Pa.
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Nonprofit Connects Murtha, Lobbyists
In turn, the lobbyists and businesses associated with PAID have become supporters of Murtha's campaigns, contributing a total of nearly $125,000 in the past three election cycles, when Murtha raised a total of $7.2 million, according to campaign records. And those same players have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars at three lobbying shops with close Murtha ties: the PMA Group, Scialabba's KSA Consulting and Ervin Technical Associates.
In the past year, Murtha, a Marine combat veteran and defense hawk, has gained national prominence as the leader of the Democratic charge to pull U.S. troops from Iraq. After the Democrats won control of Congress in November, he made an unsuccessful bid to become House majority leader, with strong backing from House Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) The main source of his power is his perch as the top Democrat on the defense appropriations subcommittee, which controls nearly a half-trillion federal dollars a year. His largess to his friends and hardscrabble district is legendary. But now that he is assuming the chairmanship of the defense subcommittee, his actions are coming under new scrutiny.
Under Murtha's watch, for instance, Windber Medical Center has been transformed from a struggling hospital outside of Johnstown into a burgeoning cancer research center, thriving on Defense Department funding. Hospital officials have paid the PMA Group some $380,000 in lobbying fees since signing on in 2001. And hospital employees have financed Murtha's political campaigns to the tune of nearly $25,000.
"It sounds like DeLay Inc.," said Melanie Sloan, executive director of the Democratic-leaning Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, referring to former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), who set up his own charities that became the focus of attention by businesses and lobbyists seeking to curry favor with him.
But Murtha has his defenders. "Jack Murtha is supportive of everything you can think of around here, from roads and sewers to defense contractors," said Bill Kuchera, chief executive of Kuchera Industries of Windber, Pa., and a PAID director. "But without Jack Murtha, there'd still be a Kuchera. We don't lean on Jack Murtha at all."
Murtha repeatedly intervened on behalf of PAID to help Kuchera expand.
After PAID's founding, Scialabba approached Kuchera to get involved. Kuchera jumped, not only joining the group's board but ramping up hiring of disabled workers, who now compose a third of the 200 employees in his company's defense business. The federal government picked up Kuchera's $7 million training bill. This year, Murtha earmarked $1.3 million for Kuchera's chemical and biological weapons detection research.
Kuchera employees donated more than $31,000 to Murtha in the past three election campaigns, according to federal election records. Between 1990 and 2000, contributions totaled $1,000. And congressional lobbying disclosure forms tally $140,000 in payments since 2001 from Kuchera to Ervin Technical Associates, whose chairman is former representative Joseph M. McDade (R-Pa.), a close Murtha ally.
The Kuchera experience is not unique. Ed Washington, another PAID director, hails from MTS Technologies, an Arlington defense contractor that recently secured $8.9 million in federal funds to expand its Johnstown facility. MTS's lobbyist, the PMA Group, has disclosed some $300,000 in fees from the company since 1998. And PMA has returned the favor: Since 1989, the firm's employees have given Murtha $107,500.
Daniel DeVos, an honorary PAID board member, represents Concurrent Technologies, whose employees have lavished Murtha with more than $53,000 in campaign contributions and PMA with $820,000 in fees. That may sound steep, but the rewards have been substantial: a $150 million contract to operate the Navy Metalworking Center; a $4 million contract from the Army to evaluate fuel-cell systems; and $1.7 million for a weapons of mass destruction response laboratory, among others.
Another PAID director, Jim Estep, is a central figure in an investigation of Rep. Alan B. Mollohan (D-W.Va.), a Murtha ally and fellow member of the Appropriations Committee. Estep heads the West Virginia High-Technology Consortium Foundation and the Institute for Scientific Research, two nonprofit organizations that Mollohan helped set up and has plied with federal funds.