7 on defense panel scrutinized
Separate probes focus on ties to lobbying firm founded by Hill aide

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.

The OCE has interviewed some of the lawmakers, including Kaptur last week and Moran a few weeks ago. It has invited others in for interviews, such as Visclosky, and posed numerous questions to the members' staff.

Moran, a senior member of the defense panel whose former top aide went to work for the PMA Group, said he recently sat for a lengthy interview with two aides from the OCE. He said he asked the new ethics office to interview all of his current and former staff members, including his former chief of staff who became a PMA lobbyist, Melissa Koloszar.

"I said they should be interviewed separately, privately and completely," he said. "We wanted them to investigate."

Two investigations

Several Hill staffers said they are confused by what appears to be a dual track, with the OCE and the ethics committee simultaneously pursuing similar questions.

Kaptur's spokesman said her office does not understand the duplication but is happy to answer all questions. "The congresswoman has always emphasized openness and transparency, and it almost goes without saying she will continue to cooperate with the OCE and, if it goes to the [ethics committee], with that committee as well," said Kaptur spokesman Steve Fought. "She has nothing to hide."

Murtha's office declined to comment. The offices and representatives of Dicks, Visclosky, Young and Tiahart did not respond to questions about the scrutiny.

As the ethics committee began gathering evidence this summer about PMA's operating methods on Capitol Hill, it contacted the office of Nunes, who had earlier complained to the committee about a lobbyist's aggressiveness in seeking an earmark. Nunes agreed to comment on the incident when The Post asked him about detailed information it had obtained about his complaint.

"I didn't appreciate being threatened," Nunes said. "To me, it was a symptom of the disease we have in Congress, where a lot of members have simply gotten addicted to contributions from companies that are getting their earmarks."

Don Fleming, the PMA lobbyist who allegedly threatened Nunes, is now at Flagship Government Relations, a firm started by several departed PMA lobbyists. Fleming did not confirm the encounter, but he said in a statement Thursday that "an important responsibility of any government relations professional is to communicate to policymakers the impact that their decisions have on our clients." He added that he has "always adhered to the strictest code of professional ethics."

Moran said he continued to believe that Magliocchetti was a good lobbyist who knew that he had to get Defense Department backing for the earmarks he was seeking from Capitol Hill. Describing him as "the only Democratic defense [lobbyist] for the most part," Moran said Magliocchetti also was someone Democrats naturally turned to for fundraising help from the military contractor community.

"When you needed to raise money for the Democratic campaign committee, he was always the first one you went to," Moran said, adding, "I don't know how he raised his money."

Moran hosted an event for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in his Alexandria home last year, the lawmaker said, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) as the guest of honor. Magliocchetti and some of his clients were in attendance, writing checks for $28,500 each, Moran said.

Staff writers Paul Kane and Ellen Nakashima and research editor Alice Crites contributed to this report.

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