By Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 17, 2009
Three senior House Democrats revealed sharp declines in donations for the first quarter of 2009 after the shuttering of a lobbying firm that in previous election cycles helped steer millions of dollars in donations to their political committees from its lobbyists and earmark-seeking clients.
Reps. John P. Murtha (Pa.), Peter J. Visclosky (Ind.) and James P. Moran Jr. (Va.) have taken in 58 percent less in combined campaign contributions this year compared with the first quarter of 2007, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.
Examining only donations from individuals who gave more than $200 -- a category that captures what most lobbyists and their clients contribute -- the drop-off is more severe. The lawmakers have received $185,000 from those individuals this year, a 76 percent drop from almost $760,000 from such individuals in the corresponding period two years ago.
This decline in political cash is not a sign of electoral weakness, because all three represent Democratic-leaning districts that are considered safe. But the lawmakers are all senior members of the House Appropriations Committee, and Murtha chairs the powerful defense subcommittee, on which the other two also serve.
The three have been particularly successful in raising money from lobbyists, especially the PMA Group, a firm founded 20 years ago by a former committee staffer close to Murtha. Earlier this decade, the firm hired top aides of both Visclosky and Moran.
Those lawmakers have been the largest recipients of donations from PMA lobbyists and their clients, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. In the 2008 election cycle, Murtha alone took in $775,000 in PMA-linked donations for his reelection campaign and his political action committee.
The firm's clients have been highly successful at winning narrow spending requests known as earmarks, usually line items in one of the 12 annual spending bills that fund the government. In one such bill -- the 2008 spending plan for the Pentagon, overseen by Murtha -- PMA clients benefited from $300 million worth of earmarks, according to a study by Congressional Quarterly and Taxpayers for Common Sense.
But PMA closed this spring after the FBI raided its offices last fall as part of an investigation into the firm's Capitol Hill ties.
All three Democrats defend their earmarking as legitimate. However, reports about questionable donations from people with no obvious connection to the firm prompted Visclosky to conduct his own audit and donate $18,000 to the U.S. Treasury, equaling the contributions he deemed improper.
The others rejected this approach. In a mid-February interview, Moran defended PMA's founder, Paul Magliocchetti, as "probably the most professional of all representatives of small defense firms."
Now, Moran's fundraising has dropped precipitously. In the first quarter of 2007 -- the time when earmark requests are due -- Moran raised $138,000 from individuals giving him $200 or more. Over the same time frame this year, Moran got $31,100 from those individuals.