Murtha: Keeping it in the Family

| Tue May 5, 2009 12:02 PM EDT

Ready for your daily dose of Murtha scandal news? Turns out a company belonging to the Pennsylvania Democrat's nephew, Robert Murtha Jr., has received millions in non-compete contracts from the Pentagon. Could this work have resulted from his uncle's position as chairman of the defense appropriations subcommittee or the congressman's self-styled role as the Hill's undisputed—and unapologetic—earmarker extraordinaire? Robert Murtha insists his company, Murtech, won the work on its merits, and the Pentagon contracting officer who handled one $1.4 million award says the contract was handed out on a no-bid basis because the Army "had a lot of things going on at the time." What's Murtha say? Nothing. His office didn't respond to questions from the Washington Post—hardly surprising given that the paper's Carol Leonnig has been doing some unflattering reporting on Murtha recently. A couple weeks ago, she explored the massive amounts of taxpayer money Murtha has directed to the small airport that bears his name—it's not hard to imagine why—in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. According to the Post, Murtha has steered as much as $150 million to this regional airport with a comically small clientele.

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A snapshot: "Inside the terminal on a recent weekday, four passengers lined up to board a flight, outnumbered by seven security staff members and supervisors, all suited up in gloves and uniforms to screen six pieces of luggage. For three hours that day, no commercial or private planes took off or landed. Three commercial flights leave the airport on weekdays, all bound for Dulles International Airport."

This is hardly the first time Murtha's profligate earmarking has come into question, nor is the veteran Democrat a stranger to charges that he has used his position to benefit a family member (see Robert "Kit" Murtha Sr., John's onetime defense lobbyist brother and the father of Murtech's owner). As if there weren't already enough Murthas seeking or receiving congressional pork, another Murtha nephew, Col. Brian Murtha, was recently named to be a legislative liaison for the Marine Corps—that is, one of its congressional lobbyists. Part of that job would inevitably include lobbying Murtha's military spending subcommittee—and, yes, Uncle Jack himself. According to the Times, Col. Murtha previously served as a helicopter pilot. I'm going to hazard a guess that the career progression from Marine helo jock to Marine lobbyist is not a typical one—unless you happen to have a certain influential uncle that happens to chair the very House subcommittee that holds sway over the military budget.

With trademark evenhandedness, the Times reports: "This convergence of the Murthas is an example of Washington's special centrifugal force, which so often brings relatives together on opposite sides of the same table. It does not appear to violate any rules or ethics guidelines, though it may well raise eyebrows among legislative liaisons competing for resources on behalf of the other military services." The problem is, these too-close-for-comfort relationships barely raise eyebrows in Washington anymore. A story or two, then it's back to business. The Murtha family is counting on that.