Lobbyist Paul Magliocchetti told the FBI that an aide to Rep. Peter J. Visclosky (D-Ind.) offered him legislative earmarks in exchange for campaign contributions annually for about a decade, according to newly released FBI files.
The lobbyist — who pleaded guilty to illegally funneling $386,000 in campaign donations to lawmakers — said a representative of Visclosky’s office first approached him in 1997 and told him earmarks were “for sale” for $10,000 to $15,000 in campaign cash for Visclosky, the documents show.
When Visclosky later became chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee for energy and water development, the price for earmarks increased to $20,000, Magliocchetti told the FBI, according to the files.
The allegations — contained in documents released as part of a public-records lawsuit — shed new light on a multi-year corruption investigation by the FBI into Magliocchetti’s former lobbying firm, PMA Group, and its ties with a network of House appropriators, including Visclosky and the late congressman John Murtha (D-Pa.). Maglioccchetti was sentenced to 27 months in prison in 2010, but no charges were ever brought against Visclosky or any of his aides.
Neither a spokesman for Visclosky — who is now ranking Democrat on the House defense appropriations subcommittee — nor Visclosky’s attorneys responded to calls Thursday requesting comment.
In 2010, Visclosky’s attorneys, Reid Weingarten and Brian Heberlig, told the House Ethics Committee that the lawmaker’s actions were “examples of typical fundraising practices that members have historically engaged in on a widespread and routine basis without recrimination.”
Visclosky stepped aside as chairman of the energy subcommittee after his office and political committees were subpoenaed in 2009. His longtime chief of staff also resigned.
The House Office of Congressional Ethics in February 2010 released a report concluding there was probable cause that Visclosky sought contributions in exchange for earmarks, citing among other things e-mails in which company lobbyists said they and others seeking earmarks had been asked to donate $20,000 to Visclosky and were invited to attend a campaign fundraising event.
The House Ethics Committee, however, closed the case. “Simply because a member sponsors an earmark for an entity that also happens to be a campaign contributor does not, on these two facts alone, support a claim that a member’s actions are being influenced by campaign contributions,” the panel said at the time.
The newly released files, which are heavily redacted, detail accounts by PMA employees and witnesses interviewed by federal agents. The watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington sued the government in 2011 to obtain records from Magliocchetti’s closed case, which were first sought in a 2010 Freedom of Information Act request.
CREW said it acted to learn the scope of PMA’s illegal activities and whether lawmakers “were caught up in its web of corruption.”
“The question remains: why did the FBI or House Ethics Committee not drop the hammer on members like Rep. Visclosky, his staff, and others who appear to have been actively involved in selling earmarks for campaign contributions?” CREW said in a statement.
Tom Rust, staff director and chief counsel to the House Ethics Committee, declined to comment.
One person close to the House committee’s investigation of Visclosky said he recalled seeing no evidence of a specific trade offered by the congressman’s office as Magliocchetti alleged, and that such an allegation might have opened new lines of inquiry.
Sources familiar with the Justice Department investigation said the case was closed more than a year ago. Visclosky declined to be interviewed by the House Ethics Committee and his lawyers, citing separation of powers, declined to turn over many materials sought in a 2009 law enforcement subpoena.
The courts have set a high bar for campaign finance extortion or bribery cases, requiring explicit proof of a promise of an act in exchange for a gift.
Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr said, “We bring public corruption cases when the facts and the law support it.”
Files released to CREW detail Magliocchetti’s operation at PMA Group, including spreadsheets that listed a total of up to $1 million in bonuses and “supplemental income” that the firm paid lobbyists over time to pass through to Democratic lawmakers. PMA employees described “tit-for-tat” and “pay-for-play” relationships with lawmakers.
The information about Visclosky is contained in an FBI transcript dated March 24, 2009, as federal prosecutors and FBI agents questioned Magliocchetti in exchange for a plea deal.
Magliocchetti explained how he met Murtha, who referred Visclosky to him. In February 1997, just after Visclosky rejoined the defense appropriations subcommittee, a representative of Visclosky’s office, whose name is redacted, arranged a breakfast meeting with Magliocchetti, the FBI files show.
The representative “told Paul that earmarks are for sale. Paul asked [name redacted] how much and [name redacted] said between 10 and 15,” which Paul understood to mean campaign contributions between $10,000 and $15,000, the FBI memo says.
If PMA clients could not raise the full amount, they could give $5,000 to Visclosky’s political action committee, Calumet PAC, Magliocchetti recalled the person saying.
As an example, Magliocchetti said a Maryland wireless communications company successfully raised $10,000 to $15,000 and received the earmarks it sought.
The February breakfast meetings continued annually, the records suggest. In 2004, after Visclosky became chairman of the energy and water appropriations subcommittee, “[name redacted] told Paul the price of earmarks was now $20,000,” the files show.
Magliocchetti told the FBI that “many of PMA’s clients did not reach $20,000 in campaign contributions, but they were still able to obtain an earmark. Paul found that clients who came in at the higher range typically received a greater earmark amount. . . . To get an earmark, they had to bring in at least $10,000 in contributions.”
Visclosky sponsored more than $34 million in defense earmarks for PMA clients in 2008 and 2009, and over the preceding decade PMA officials and relatives contributed $1.4 million to the congressman. Congress banned earmarks after 2010.