The Feds may be circling uncomfortably close to Rep. John Murtha as they probe kickbacks to defense contractors and possible earmarks-for-campaign-cash deals. But the veteran Democratic power-broker doesn’t seem to be sweating it. In fact, he’s acting as defiant as ever.
A Murtha spokesman tells TPMmuckraker that the Pennsylvania congressman has not hired a lawyer in connection with the investigations.
Possible legal jeopardy aside, Murtha doesn’t even seem inclined to rein in his penchant for dispensing earmarks to friendly outfits. Buried in a Wall Street Journal story (sub. req.) about the Pentagon spending bill that passed Murtha’s Defense Appropriations subcommittee this week is the news that the bill contains 15 separate Murtha-secured earmarks, worth a total of around $77 million, for entities whose employees gave to the congressman’s campaigns. One defense contractor, Virginia-based Argon ST Inc., will get $8 million. Argon’s employees, and its political action committee, have given Murtha $46,600 in contributions since 2007. In all, the $636.3 billion contains more than 1,100 earmarks, worth a total of more than $2.7 billion.
Murtha was characteristically unapologetic about the earmarks. His spokesman told the Journal that the congressman was “proud to secure funding for businesses and organizations in our district that are delivering quality products and services to the Defense Department.”
There appear to be several overlapping federal probes focused on a longstanding web of cozy dealings between Murtha, a handful of defense contractors with close ties to the congressman, and a now-defunct lobbying firm that was founded by a Murtha ally*. An earmark secured by Murtha in 2005 for a defense contractor has led to two guilty pleas in connection with a kickback scheme. A separate defense contractor, Kuchera Industries, which has close ties to Murtha, had its Pennsylvania headquarters raided by the Feds earlier this year. And the now-defunct PMA lobby firm — which was founded by a former subcommittee staffer described by the New York Times as a Murtha “protege” — also was raided by the FBI last year*. The Feds are said to be looking at whether it illegally tied campaign cash to earmarks. Murtha has directed almost $100 million to PMA’s clients over the years, and has received millions in contributions from the firm’s employees.
Still, Murtha’s “je-ne-regrette-rien” stance perhaps shouldn’t come as a surprise. Earlier this year, he told a local paper: “If I’m corrupt, it’s because I take care of my district.”
* These sentences have been corrected from an earlier version.