Ethics office closes inquiry into actions of Murtha, 2 others

By Ben Pershing
Saturday, December 19, 2009

A government office tasked with vetting ethics allegations against members of Congress has closed its investigation into the ties between three members of a powerful House subcommittee and a lobbying firm founded by a former Capitol Hill aide.

The Office of Congressional Ethics has told John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), chairman of the Appropriations defense subcommittee, and two members -- Norm Dicks (D-Wash.) and James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.) -- that it is no longer scrutinizing their relationships with the now-defunct PMA Group, and that it had recommended to the House ethics committee that no further action be taken in the panel's separate probe.

"I appreciate the panel's thorough investigation and carefully considered and unanimous decision to dismiss what were from the outset, baseless charges," Moran said in a statement. "If the vindication and dismissal of the matter gets one tenth of the visibility that the allegation assumed, I'll be pleased."

The OCE is a quasi-independent body established by Congress to vet allegations against lawmakers and to recommend to the ethics committee whether it should take action. The committee has 90 days to consider the recommendation, but is under no obligation to follow the OCE's advice; the two bodies have clashed repeatedly in recent months over investigative procedure.

The ethics committee publicly confirmed in June that it was also doing a PMA investigation, and the Justice Department has conducted raids and issued subpoenas in its own probe of the lobbying firm. The ethics committee on Friday declined to comment on the status of the investigation, and the Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request to comment.

The Washington Post reported in October that the two congressional ethics bodies were investigating the seven subcommittee members for their ties to PMA.

The seven lawmakers steered more than $200 million worth of earmarks to clients of PMA, and received campaign contributions from the political action committees of PMA and its clients, as well as donations from its employees. The firm's founder, Paul Magliocchetti, is a close friend of Murtha's and worked as an Appropriations defense subcommittee staff member when Murtha was a rank-and-file member of the panel.

According to a document provided to Moran by OCE, six members of its board -- a bipartisan group of former House members and officials -- voted unanimously on Nov. 20 to recommend that the ethics committee end its probe.

Murtha spokesman Matthew Mazonkey confirmed that his boss had also been informed by OCE that its probe of him had closed. The dismissal of Dicks's case was confirmed by his chief of staff to Roll Call, which first reported OCE's actions on Friday.

It is unclear whether OCE cleared any of the other four members known to be part of the PMA probe.

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