By Carol D. Leonnig and Ben Pershing
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, May 30, 2009
JOHNSTOWN, Pa., May 29 -- Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) fiercely defended on Friday his practice of steering federal contracts and earmarks to his economically distressed district, even as news broke that federal investigators had subpoenaed earmark-related records from one of Murtha's closest congressional allies, Rep. Peter Visclosky (D-Ind.).
The FBI subpoena seeks records of Visclosky's contacts with a now-disbanded lobbying firm, the PMA Group, that for years won hundreds of millions in earmarks for clients with help from Murtha, Visclosky and others on the House Appropriations defense subcommittee. A former aide to Murtha, who chairs the subcommittee, ran the PMA Group and has remained close to the congressman.
The FBI's action signaled a broadening probe of PMA and its former clients, which include some defense contractors that Murtha has recruited to open offices in Johnstown. Both Murtha and Visclosky have received generous campaign donations over the years from PMA lobbyists and their clients.
Friday, at an annual trade show he helps host for defense contractors, Murtha testily fielded reporters' questions about a separate federal inquiry into a Johnstown company, Kuchera Defense Systems, whose offices were raided by the FBI in January along with the homes of the company's two top executives.
"What that's got to do with me?" Murtha asked. "What do you think -- I'm supposed to oversee these companies? That's not my job. That's the Defense Department's job."
Murtha abruptly left a news conference when asked whether he, like Visclosky, had hired a lawyer. Murtha and his staff declined to comment on the subpoena of Visclosky.
Visclosky confirmed the subpoena, saying in a statement, "It is my intention to fully cooperate with the investigation consistent with my constitutional obligations to Congress and my duties and responsibilities to my constituents."
Murtha was in Johnstown for the annual Showcase for Commerce, where area businesses display their work for the armed services. Murtha has been a fixture of the event for years, using it to announce his success in obtaining funding for Johnstown area businesses. At Friday's news conference, he announced more than $100 million in defense work included in the new federal budget.
Throughout the show, Murtha extolled the value of years of projects he brought to the former steel and coal-mining community. He joked that the federal money he steers "has been the stimulus program for Johnstown for a long time."
He added: "Those federal earmarks . . . have been critical to our economic survival. The big suppliers came because of me, but they stayed because of the workforce. They stayed because of the savings."
Kuchera is one of a number of local companies that grew rapidly under Murtha's earmarks. Company officers have contributed $60,000 to Murtha's campaigns. The company was not a client of PMA, but it relied for several years on lobbying work by the congressman's brother, Robert "Kit" Murtha.
The Navy recently barred Kuchera from future work until a fraud investigation is resolved. An attorney for Kuchera has said the company looks forward to appealing the Navy's suspension.
The PMA Group has been a major player in winning the vast majority of earmarks from Murtha, Visclosky and Rep. James P. Moran (D-Va.). The firm was founded by Paul Magliochetti, Murtha's former subcommittee staff member, and it later hired senior aides to Visclosky and Moran. The FBI raided PMA's Arlington offices in October as part of an investigation of improper campaign donations to lawmakers.
According to the watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense, Visclosky directed $34.4 million worth of projects to PMA clients in the appropriations bills for fiscal years 2008 and 2009. Visclosky, along with Murtha and Moran, has been a leading recipient of donations from PMA and its clients. In the previous 12 years, Visclosky's reelection campaign and his separate leadership political action committee have received $1.4 million in donations from PMA and its clients, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Unlike Murtha, who has defended his history of earmarks, Visclosky has altered his legislative behavior. For fiscal year 2010, he limited earmark requests to public entities in his northwestern Indiana district, swearing off earmarks for private contractors. Visclosky has also voted numerous times for an ethics committee investigation into PMA's earmarks.
Visclosky also hired a white-collar law firm to audit his political accounts, leading to a series of amended campaign finance reports.
Pershing reported from Washington. Staff writer Paul Kane and research editor Alice Crites contributed to this article.