Lawmakers Could Face Ethics Panel

WASHINGTON (AP) - Lawmakers who steer money and contracts to
favored companies and receive campaign contributions in return
could face a House ethics committee investigation.

The ethics committee's Democratic chairman and its ranking
Republican said Thursday that the committee has been reviewing the
practice - which came under scrutiny because of a Justice
Department criminal investigation of a now-defunct lobbying firm,
PMA.

Lobbyists for the firm and their clients - the recipients of
lawmakers' pet hometown projects known as "earmarks" -
contributed substantial amounts to several lawmakers including
three key Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee.

Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania has collected $2.37 million
from PMA's lobbyists and the companies it has represented since
1989, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks
political money. Rep. Pete Visclosky of Indiana has collected $1.36
million, and Rep. Jim Moran, $997,348.

The committee has not yet turned the review into a full
investigation, a move that would involve much more intensive
scrutiny with the possibility of disciplinary action. If the
committee does take that step, it could be embarrassing to
Democrats and hand Republicans an issue for the 2010 congressional
campaigns.

Republicans have been trying to force an investigation of the
issue in a series of votes that kept picking up Democratic support
- mainly from Democrats in their first and second terms.

Democratic leaders, realizing they were losing support from
their members, then defensively pushed through a resolution telling
the ethics committee to declare whether it is investigating the
matter.

The statement by ethics chairman Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif. and
ranking Republican Jo Bonner of Alabama, said that the committee
previously authorized a review of the allegations relating to the
contributions. That review had not been made public.

"The committee is continuing to review these matters," the
statement added.

"I'm encouraged that the ethics committee is looking into the
PMA scandal," said Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., leader of the
Republican efforts that demanded an investigation. "Obviously,
with the first appropriations bill scheduled to be on the floor
next week, the House of Representatives cannot justify the
continued practice of awarding no-bid contracts to private
companies. This announcement ought to be a sign that this practice
needs to stop immediately."

In 1989, a Capitol Hill staffer named Paul Magliocchetti
switched jobs, opening the PMA lobbying firm after leaving the
defense subcommittee where Murtha was the brand-new chairman.

Murtha has sponsored hundreds of millions of dollars in directed
spending to Magliocchetti's contractor clients, most of whom have
offices in Murtha's district.

The total amount of money isn't publicly known because until two
years ago, the House refused to identify the sponsors of earmarks.
But the figures for the last two years are illustrative. Since
2007, Murtha has earmarked $76.1 million for Magliocchetti's
lobbying clients, a sizable portion of the nearly $200 million
Murtha has earmarked in the defense budgets during that period.

Magliocchetti was preparing to retire when FBI agents raided his
Washington-area firm last November and seized his firm's campaign
records.

Last month, another shoe dropped. A federal grand jury
subpoenaed the third-ranking Democrat on Murtha's subcommittee,
Visclosky.

He was forced to relinquish control of a key energy-and-water
spending bill that he would have controlled as chairman of the
Appropriations energy and water subcommittee.


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