Seven members of House defense subcommittee scrutinized by ethics investigators

By Carol D. Leonnig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 30, 2009

Nearly half the members of a powerful House subcommittee in control of Pentagon spending are under scrutiny by ethics investigators in Congress, who have trained their lens on the relationships between seven panel members and an influential lobbying firm founded by a former Capitol Hill aide.

The investigations by two separate ethics offices include an examination of the chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee on defense, John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), as well as others who helped steer federal funds to clients of the PMA Group. The lawmakers received campaign contributions from the firm and its clients. A document obtained by The Washington Post shows that the subcommittee members under scrutiny also include Peter J. Visclosky (D-Ind.), James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.), Norm Dicks (D-Wash.), Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) , C.W. Bill Young (R-Fla.) and Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.).

The document also indicates that the House ethics committee's staff recently interviewed the staff of Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) about his allegation that a PMA lobbyist threatened him in 2007 when he resisted steering federal funds to a PMA client. The lobbyist told a Nunes staffer that if the lawmaker didn't help, the defense contractor would move out of Nunes's district and take dozens of jobs with him.

The document obtained by The Post offers the most detailed picture yet of a widening inquiry into the relationships between lawmakers and PMA, a lobbying firm founded by Paul Magliocchetti that has been under criminal investigation by the Justice Department. A year ago, the FBI raided PMA's offices and carted away boxes of records dealing with its political donations and the firm's efforts to win congressionally directed funds, known as "earmarks," for clients.

The document shows that both the ethics committee and the Office of Congressional Ethics are looking into the matter. The OCE investigates and makes recommendations to the House ethics committee, which has the power to subpoena and sanction lawmakers. Internal ethics investigations of members of Congress are normally confidential, but The Post learned details of their work through the document, which became available on a file-sharing network.

Under the description of the OCE inquiry, the document says investigators are looking at House members who may have been "accepting contributions or other items of value from PMA's PAC in exchange for an official act." A Hill source cautioned that the ethics committee has not gathered a significant amount of material and has not zeroed in on specific lawmakers.

$200 million in earmarks

Together, the seven legislators have personally steered more than $200 million in earmarks to clients of the PMA Group in the past two years, and received more than $6.2 million in campaign contributions from PMA and its clients in the past decade, according to an analysis by Congressional Quarterly and Taxpayers for Common Sense.

The Post reviewed earmark and campaign records and found that the seven had each supported funding for PMA clients and also received donations. Young has recently received very little from PMA.

Under some political pressure, the House ethics committee disclosed in June that it had an ongoing investigation into this matter. The move came days after the FBI subpoenaed Visclosky's office for records relating to PMA and as other House members called for the ethics committee to act. The committee did not disclose the members it was scrutinizing then, and the specific details of the OCE's work have not been publicly known.

While lawmakers received generous contributions, PMA used its growing influence with the panel over the past decade to become one of the top 10 lobby shops in Washington and took in $114 million in lobbying fees, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a watchdog group.

The chairman of the House ethics committee, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), initially declined to verify that the document The Post obtained was generated by the ethics committee. Late Thursday, she issued a statement explaining how it had been accidentally released by a low-level staffer through a file-sharing network. She declined to discuss the PMA probe and said many lawmakers may be under review by the committee at any point in time.

"No inference to any misconduct can be made from the fact that a matter is simply before the Committee," she said in her statement.

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