“The Majority’s Waterloo On Ethics”? Taking Stock Of the PMA Lobbying Probe

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Earlier this week, Keith Ashdown of the watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense, told The Hill that one troubled lobbying firm with ties to some Democratic lawmakers, “will become the majority’s Waterloo on ethics.”

Ashdown added: “If they do not tackle this example head-on they will look as bad as the Republicans on ethics in government.”

Sounds serious! So it’s worth taking a broad look at what Ashdown’s talking about.

The firm under scrutiny here is the PMA Group, which was founded back in 1989 by Paul Magliocchetti, a former top aide to Rep. John Murtha.

It hasn’t been a good week for the firm. On Monday, ABC News reported that, back in November, the FBI had raided the firm’s northern Virginia office. The following day, the New York Times revealed that investigators were probing the possibility that Magliocchetti had funneled campaign contributions to Murtha and other lawmakers, in a quid pro quo arrangement. And the same day, The Hill added that the firm was “disintegrating,” with several senior lobbyists leaving after being unable to strike a buyout deal with Magliocchetti.

PMA specializes in representing defense firms looking for federal money. And its employees are prodigious political contributors. Over the last three election cycles, they’ve given a total of more than $1 million to political campaigns, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics

And at the top of its list of recipients over the last two decades are two Democratic lawmakers who sit on the Defense Appropriations subcommittee: Murtha of Pennsylania, Rep. Pete Visclosky of Indiana.

Murtha appears to be most closely implicated. Aside from Magliocchetti, at least one other former Murtha aide, Julie Giardina, also works at PMA. And Dan Cunningham, another PMA staffer, is a former Hill aide who has a close relationship with Murtha, according to The Hill.

Roll Call found earlier this week that, over the last three election cycles, Murtha had received around $1.75 million from PMA and its clients. Last fall, when Murtha faced an unexpected re-election challenge after calling his constituents racist, PMA and its clients came to his aid, contributing $110,000 to Murtha’s last-minute fundraising effort.

What did PMA get from Murtha? Roll Call also found that in the last two years, Murtha has steered earmarks totaling around $93 million to PMA clients.

It’s also worth noting that a second company linked to Murtha, defense contractor Kuchera Indstries, was raided by the FBI in January. Over the years, Murtha has funneled over $100 million in earmarks to the firm and a related company.

It’s not hard to see why Ashdown told Roll Call: “This investigation is moving in the direction of Jack Murtha.”

As for Murtha’s friend Visclosky, he too has personal ties to PMA. Rich Kaelin, a PMA lobbyist, was Visclosky’s chief of staff in 2003.

Visclosky has raked in $196,950 from donors with ties to the firm. PMA has been Visclosky’s top donor every year since 2004. And the Post-Tribune of Lake County, Indiana has found that in 2008, the congressman secured more than $20 million in earmarks for the firm’s clients — a quarter of the total earmarks he got.

So that’s what we’ve got. So far, there’s no evidence that either Murtha or Visclosky are themselves are focuses of the investigation. What this amounts to, at the moment, is a firm contributing alot of money to certain lawmakers with authority over the sphere it works in — as well as hiring some of their former aides — and getting earmarks from those lawmakers.

That’s not evidence of a quid pro quo. But it doesn’t look good, especially given the president’s call for a new kind of politics. And something tells us we haven’t heard the last of it.

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