Last week I brought up the cozy relationship House Majority Leader hopeful Steny Hoyer has sought to cultivate with K Street, but Jack Murtha, who incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi backed for the number two job on Sunday, has lobbyist ties that are worth mentioning as well. The Pennsylvania congressman is often hailed by Democrats for taking a principled stand against the President’s stay-the-course policy in Iraq, though some political observers consider him to be among the least scrupulous members of Congress serving today. Among Murtha’s critics is the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), which listed him in its report “Beyond DeLay: The 20 Most Corrupt Members of Congress (and five to watch).” (Murtha, for his part, is designated as one to watch.) CREW’s report notes that Murtha’s “ethics violations stem from abuse of his position as Ranking Member of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee to benefit the lobbying firm of a former long-term staffer and clients of his brother, Robert ‘Kit’ Murtha, a registered lobbyist.”
According to CREW, which decried Pelosi’s endorsement in a press release yesterday, some of the beneficiaries of Murtha’s powerful position have been clients of PMA Group, which lobbies on behalf of defense contractors and was founded by longtime Defense Appropriations subcommittee staffer Paul Magliocchetti, who worked with Murtha. “In the 2006 Defense appropriations bill, PMA clients received at least 60 earmarks at a total of $95.1 million,” according to CREW’s report. In turn, PMA and its clients have made generous campaign contributions to Murtha. “In the current campaign cycle, the PMA Group and 11 of the firm’s clients rank in the top 20 contributors to Rep. Murtha, having made campaign contributions totaling $274,649.2 In the 2004 and 2002 cycles, PMA and nine of the firm’s clients ranked in the top 20 contributors having made $236,7993 in contributions and $279,074, respectively.”
Then there’s Murtha’s brother, Kit, who joined the lobbying firm KSA Consulting in 2002, reportedly at the invitation of a former Murtha staffer, Carmen Scialabba, who is a senior partner at the firm. According to the Los Angeles Times, which reported on Jack Murtha’s shady ties to his brother’s firm in 2005, Congress passed a defense appropriations bill in 2004, one that Murtha helped to author, that benefited at least 10 of KSA’s clients. The firms, according to the Times, received $20.8 million in earmarks in the bill.
One of the clients, a small Arkansas maker of military vehicles, received $1.7 million, triple its total sales for 2004. Several other clients received money that represented more than half of their annual sales from last year.
KSA directly lobbied the congressman’s office on behalf of seven companies that received money from the bill, records and interviews show. Among those clients, a firm based in Maryland received one of the larger individual awards, $4.2 million.
Steny Hoyer, the Maryland congressman, was once thought to be the front-runner for Majority Leader. No longer. Pelosi’s endorsement levels the playing field and then some. “She will ensure that they [the Murtha camp] win. This is hard-ball politics,” Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), a Murtha supporter, told The Hill. “We are entering an era where when the Speaker instructs you what to do, you do it.” (We have a word for the new era that Rep. Moran is referring to. It’s called a dictatorship.)
In some ways it’s not surprising that Pelosi is throwing her weight behind Murtha. She and Hoyer have certainly had their disagreements in the past, while Murtha has been one of her strongest allies in the House. She may also be trying to send a strong signal of her intention to push for a new approach to the Iraq conundrum, one of the cornerstones of the Democratic agenda. In a letter to Murtha released on Sunday, Pelosi lauded the ex-Marine for changing “the national debate” and helping to “make Iraq the central issue of this historic election,” referring to his call in 2005 for a withdrawal of troops from Iraq. Still, in endorsing Murtha she risks marking the beginning of her speakership by dividing her caucus. Not to mention turning off the electorate.
Since one of the issues that resounded with voters in Tuesday’s election was congressional corruption, some question whether it’s wise for the Dems to use their new mandate to go back to business as usual, installing a Majority Leader that has a questionable past of shilling for K Street and, in the case of both Murtha and Hoyer, a history of working against lobbying reform efforts. As the Democrats become the majority party in Congress after 12 years in the minority, they would do well to remember that, in 1994, when both houses of Congress fell to the GOP, it was rampant corruption that helped to end their long reign.