Cash pours in for Murtha's top aide in Pa. race for seat

Mark Critz, who is running for the congressional seat vacated by the death of longtime Pennsylvania congressman John Murtha, talks with campaign worker Kimberly Bennett at his campaign headquarters in Johnstown, Pa.
Mark Critz, who is running for the congressional seat vacated by the death of longtime Pennsylvania congressman John Murtha, talks with campaign worker Kimberly Bennett at his campaign headquarters in Johnstown, Pa. (Keith Srakocic/associated Press)
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By Carol D. Leonnig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 26, 2010

Many of the defense contractors that benefited from the late Rep. John Murtha's power to dole out Pentagon contracts are lining up to help elect his top aide to the seat.

Defense contractors, local business officers and lobbyists that relied on earmarked federal contracts from Murtha (D-Pa.) recently chipped in $142,400 to elect Mark Critz, an analysis by The Washington Post shows. Those donations made up more than 52 percent of the individual contributions that Critz raised in the first-quarter of 2010 as he seeks to replace his late boss, new campaign records reveal.

Critz is a friendly face to many defense industry officers who had donated to Murtha's campaigns. He served as local district director for Murtha's office in Johnstown, Pa., and helped recommend to Murtha which companies should get earmarked contracts when Murtha chaired the powerful House defense appropriations subcommittee.

Murtha, who was considered one of the most influential members of Congress after four decades in office, died on Feb. 8 at 77 from complications of gall bladder surgery. With the widely popular lion no longer on the ballot, Republicans find that they have a shot at winning a House seat they had previously given up trying to seize.

On top of the individual checks Critz received, global defense contractors such as Boeing, Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics and other defense companies gave $21,400 through their political action committees.

Four former lobbyists of the PMA Group, a once-powerful lobbying shop, also chipped in to elect Critz. Murtha arranged for his spending panel to steer hundreds of millions of earmarked contracts to PMA clients. The firm shut its doors amid a criminal investigation scrutinizing more than $1 million dollars in campaign contributions it gave to Murtha and other subcommittee members. Critz's money came as well from top officers of companies that were longtime beneficiaries of Murtha's largess in doling out military contracts: Argon ST, Progeny Systems, Concurrent Technologies Corporation, Advanced Acoustic Concepts and Mountaintop Technologies.

There hasn't been a lot of time for Critz to campaign or fundraise, making the defense industry's money that much more critical to the Democrat's chances. Since winning the nod of the Democratic Party to run for Murtha's seat in February, Critz has raised $376,088 from individuals and political action committees, including Murtha's committee after his death. Republican businessman Tim Burns began his campaign to unseat Murtha nearly a year ago and has raised $325,426.

The House ethics committee identified Critz as a person who prepared earmark suggestions for Murtha, and Murtha told the committee he routinely approved the list his staff gave him without making any changes. The committee found no evidence of wrongdoing by Murtha.

The House race is now considered a close one, with powerful Republican and Democratic leaders stepping in to stump for their party candidates. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi hosted a reception-fundraiser for Critz on Tuesday at Lounge 201 on Capitol Hill. Tickets sold for $250 to $2,400 per person, according to a party invitation. Vice President Biden campaigned for Critz on Friday in Pittsburgh.

Burns was joined by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich at a fundraising reception Thursday night in Latrobe, Westmoreland County. Tickets for the general reception were $150, but those attending the VIP event with Gingrich paid $4,800 to attend.

A Conservative American Action Network poll showed last week that the Critz-Burns matchup was in a virtual tie -- one month from the special election. The poll shows Critz with 40 percent and Burns with 39 percent. Voting is scheduled for the same day as Pennsylvania's primary election on May 18.

On Tuesday, a survey released by Public Policy Polling showed Burns three points ahead.

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