By Carol D. Leonnig and Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Two separate federal raids at the Virginia offices of a lobbying powerhouse and at the Pennsylvania headquarters of a defense contractor have one thing in common: Both businesses have made millions from federal earmark projects arranged by Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.).
Sources familiar with the probes say the FBI is looking at whether the PMA Group, a lobbying firm founded by a former Murtha aide, arranged contributions to Murtha and other House Democrats that may have violated federal election laws. In the January raid at the offices of Kuchera Industries, sources said, investigators requested a broad range of documents from the company and its sister firms, and are examining the possible improper use of federal money at a hunting club owned by the company's co-founder.
Murtha's spokesman said the congressman has not been contacted by investigators and has no reason to believe that the raids are related to him. Murtha, a powerful member of the House Appropriations Committee, arranged hundreds of millions of dollars in earmarks for defense firms, which have donated generously to him.
"No one is suggesting that Jack Murtha is involved, has anything to do with this. Period," spokesman Matthew Mazonkey said.
The Justice Department declined to comment. Two people familiar with parts of the investigation said the department's office of public integrity is leading the probe.
Murtha, a 19-term congressman, arranged $38 million in federal earmarks for PMA's clients in the past fiscal year alone, according to the watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense.
PMA, which specializes in lobbying on defense contracts, is ranked the 10th-largest lobbying firm in terms of income and collected $13.5 million in lobbying fees in 2008, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The PMA Group and its clients were five of the top 10 donors to Murtha's most recent campaign, together giving $183,700 toward his reelection, the center reported.
Yesterday, a group of lobbyists at PMA issued a statement announcing that they are splitting off from the firm.
Kuchera Defense Systems and Kuchera Industries, based in Murtha's district and led by Bill and Ron Kuchera, won $50 million in Pentagon contracts from 2001 to 2008, and have long-term contracts that could be worth more than $100 million over a decade. Kuchera's lobbying firm is Ervin Technical Associates, whose chairman is longtime Murtha friend and former Republican congressman Joseph M. McDade.
The LBK Game Ranch, a hunting lodge and preserve owned by Bill Kuchera, is the site of an annual defense industry trade show founded and hosted by Murtha.
Kuchera attorney Dennis McGlynn said yesterday that his clients are not aware of any discrepancies in the numerous company records authorities obtained in the raid, and that they will "continue to cooperate" with investigators.
Former prosecutors said the fact that the FBI raided offices and homes -- rather than issuing subpoenas for documents -- indicates that authorities may be building a case around evidence they already have. Raids also often indicate that authorities are concerned about the destruction of evidence.
Murtha's status in the House has grown substantially over the past four years. Murtha -- elected with the reform-minded Watergate class of 1974 -- is a former Marine and was the first Vietnam War veteran to serve in Congress. A longtime ally of the Pentagon, he originally backed the Iraq war but broke with the Bush administration in late 2005, making him a cult hero among antiwar liberals.
One of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's closest allies, Murtha ran for the majority leader post with the California Democrat's blessing in November 2006 after Democrats seized the majority for the first time in 12 years. He was routed, by 2 to 1, by Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) but retained strong clout with Pelosi, who has made him a point person on Iraq policy for the Democratic caucus. By early spring, Murtha is expected to again be front and center when the Obama administration must request funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, money that must first go through Murtha's subcommittee.
Murtha famously commands a corner of the House chamber largely run by the Pennsylvania delegation, where a dozen or more of his acolytes gather around the 76-year-old lawmaker to hear his wisdom and to watch him broker deals.
Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.), whose Alexandria-based district is home to many of the contractors who received earmarks while being represented by PMA, defended Murtha's earmarks and PMA yesterday. PMA was Moran's top donor in the last election cycle, giving $37,500.
"Paul Magliocchetti is probably the most professional of all representatives of small defense firms," he said, noting that Magliocchetti sought Pentagon approval for his projects and that Moran never regretted supporting them. "They all knew that if they weren't doing good work, they weren't going to get the money."
Staff writers Jerry Markon and Carrie Johnson and staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.