By Amy Gardner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 17, 2009
More than a dozen defense contractors with business before U.S. Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.), a member of the powerful House Appropriations defense subcommittee, have donated thousands of dollars to Moran's younger brother Brian, a candidate for governor of Virginia.
Brian Moran filed a campaign finance report this week that shows he collected $80,000 during the first three months of 2009 from 18 contractors that have been longtime backers of the congressman. Seven of the firms are awaiting approval of Moran-backed earmarks totaling $14.5 million.
Many of the firms are Virginia-based, and those executives who would speak about the gifts said they have long been politically active in the state and have known both brothers for years. Others have been heavy federal contributors with little involvement in state politics. Most have benefited from Jim Moran's role in crafting defense spending bills each year.
Moran aides said it was inevitable for the brothers to experience some overlap in their base of financial support and for contacts that Jim Moran cultivated over the years to migrate into Brian's camp. Brian Moran's former state legislative district was located entirely inside his brother's congressional district. Defense contracting is a mainstay of the Northern Virginia economy. And the two share a top political consultant -- Mame Reiley -- who has helped raise money for both.
"So many defense employees actually live in Northern Virginia, so it's not unusual and it shouldn't be a surprise," said Reiley, who chairs Brian Moran's campaign and who addressed questions about the contributions at the campaign's request. Brian Moran was attending back-to-back events yesterday, and Jim Moran was in India and Pakistan, aides said, so neither was available to comment.
Still, the overlap has brought questions. Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a nonpartisan group that has been advocating against earmarks, said the donations suggest that Brian Moran's campaign for governor has created a new avenue for contractors to seek influence with the powerful House committee that helps oversee the country's defense spending.
"Jim Moran is perched extremely well to have a lot of deep-pocketed friends who are willing to make campaign contributions," Ellis said. "One way to curry favor with powerful lawmakers is to help them and their family out. It is not impossible to imagine that giving a campaign contribution to his brother's run for office is going to help you in dealings with Jim Moran, the defense appropriations subcommittee member."
Several of Brian Moran's donors listed on this week's reports have also contributed to former Republican congressman Tom Davis, U.S. Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R), U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D) and Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D). And several said they have known Brian Moran, a longtime state lawmaker from Alexandria until December, for almost as long as they have known his older brother.
Reiley said there's no possibility for donors to exert influence through Brian Moran because he is entirely uninvolved with his brother's work on the appropriations committee. She also noted that in most cases, she approached the donors, not the other way around.
"Quite frankly, they're the same people that I tapped on for Mark Warner and for Tim Kaine," she said. "Northern Virginia is a very tight community. A lot of them are defense people."
One such company is Alexandria-based BriarTek, which makes marine safety gear and counts on the U.S. Navy for about 40 percent of its business. It has donated $15,000 to Brian Moran in the past year.
"I've been really impressed with Brian. I see him at every sort of public thing," said Joe Landa, a partner with BriarTek. "This is just one of those simple things. I hope the best for him and would do anything to help him."
Landa's partner, Charles Collins, has given Jim Moran more than $20,000 since 2001. The company is awaiting approval of a $3 million federal earmark requested by Moran to develop "infrared vascular fingerprinting" technology, which would allow the military to track hostile personnel in darkness.
The following examples are culled from data compiled by the nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project:
-- Terry Collins, chairman and chief executive of Fairfax County-based Argon ST, never contributed to a state or local candidate before giving Brian Moran $5,000 in 2007 and an additional $4,400 over the past year. Collins has given Jim Moran more than $10,000 since 2002. He gave almost $60,000 in federal contributions last year, including $2,300 to U.S. Rep. John P. Murtha, chairman of the defense appropriations subcommittee. Argon, which manufacturers communications systems for the military, is awaiting a $3 million earmark requested by Moran to develop an electronic intelligence system for the Navy.
-- MobilVox, a Reston-based software developer, and its president, Enrique Lenz, gave Brian Moran $3,000 in the past year. The company has not given to other state candidates. Lenz and other MobilVox employees have given Jim Moran more than $22,000 since 2004; Lenz also gave Murtha $3,000 last year. MobilVox is awaiting a $2 million earmark requested by Moran to develop software to help Navy dive teams detect underwater explosives.
-- George Pedersen of Fairfax-based Mantech International Corp. has given Brian Moran $50,000. Pedersen has also contributed substantially to other Virginia candidates, including Kaine. He gave $81,000 in federal contributions last year, including donations to Murtha, Davis and another member of the defense appropriations subcommittee, U.S. Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.). Mantech, which focuses on systems engineering and software development for national security systems, is awaiting a $2.5 million earmark requested by Jim Moran.
Because there are no dollar limits on contributions in Virginia, Pedersen was able to give much more money to Brian Moran ($50,000 in one year) than he could give to a federal candidate. There is also prohibition on direct corporate donations to federal officials, but there is no such limit on gifts to Virginia candidates.
Staff researcher Alice Crites contributed to this report.