PMA Group Investigation


After a series of articles noting the November FBI raid of the offices of the PMA Group, a Washington lobby shop tightly connected to House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chair John Murtha, the New York Times reveals that a prominent lobbyist at PMA is under investigation for funneling fraudulent campaign contributions to Rep. Murtha and other lawmakers. That “prominent lobbyist” is former Murtha staffer and lead PMA lobbyist Paul Magliocchetti and those other lawmakers are likely Reps. Pete Visclosky and James Moran.

This marks the fourth major earmarking investigation launched against top appropriators in Congress, with many more related scandals along the way. The first large investigation netted the most extreme case of quid pro quo, Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham. Cunningham was found guilty of corruption for trading earmarks to defense contractors in exchange for a variety of items including a yacht, an 1850 Louis Phillipe commode, and prostitutes. The next two investigations were of the more common variety, the typical tightrope walk of lobbyists selling earmarks by navigating that fine line between serving the public interest and quid pro quo. Appropriators and lobbyists have practiced this walk for many years, and like political Phillipe Petit’s, they rarely fall. The investigations begun between 2005 and 2006 into Reps. Alan Mollohan and Jerry Lewis, both Appropriations Committee members, remain unresolved. Similar controversies have arisen around Reps. Don Young, Charles Rangel, and Curt Weldon (defeated for election in 2006) and former Sen. Ted Stevens (defeated in 2008).

The lack of resolution in these cases bodes well for the staying power of the lawmakers who appear likely to get caught up in this scandal, but it doesn’t look great for Congress’ means of appropriating money. Since the earmarking phenomenon exploded into these series of investigations (and other scandals), it has become clear that lawmakers and lobbyists have been playing a game that borders on, and often crosses into, corruption of a public office.

Robert Kaiser’s new book So Damn Much Money lays out the history of the lobbyist role in the creation of the system of directed spending that we call earmarking. One key point that comes out of Kaiser’s book is that this quid pro quo tightrope walk existed from the get-go. Earmarking was always a precarious game of greying ethical, and legal, boundaries. With the revelation of the investigation of PMA Group, a major earmark player, and their possible involvement with three long term, major appropriators, the legal system appears to have caught up with the tightrope walk.

As noted above, those under investigation, or convicted, for earmarking abuses are all long term, powerful Appropriations Committee members. Below is a chart of these members and others who face questions about their earmarking (let me know who I missed in the comments):

Congressmen Under Investigation, Convicted, or Under Fire for Earmarking Abuses
Name Yrs. of Service Position on Committee Under Investigation?
former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-CA) 14 years Defense Appropriations Plead Guilty in 2005
Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA) 30 years Appropriations Ranking Member (2007-Present), Chair of Appropriations Committee (2005-2007), Chair of Defense Appropriations Subcommittee (1999-2005) Under Investigation for funneling earmarks to lobbyist and major campaign contributor Bill Lowery
Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-WV) 26 years Chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Science, Justice, Commerce and Related Agencies Under Investigation for funneling earmarks to nonprofits connected to business partners and lobbyists who are major campaign contributors
Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) 35 years Chair of Defense Appropriations Subcommittee (1989-1995, 2007-Present), Ranking Member Defense Appropriations Subcommittee (1995-2007) Linked to investigation of PMA Group’s alleged use of fraudulent campaign contributions to entice earmarks for clients
Rep. Pete Visclosky (D-IN) 24 years Chair of Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy & Water, sits on Subcommittee on Defense Linked to investigation of PMA Group’s alleged use of fraudulent campaign contributions to entice earmarks for clients
Rep. James Moran (D-VA) 18 years Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Linked to investigation of PMA Group’s alleged use of fraudulent campaign contributions to entice earmarks for clients
Rep. Don Young (R-AK) 26 years Chair of Transportation & Infrastructure Committee (2001-2007) Revealed that Young inserted an earmark for a Florida campaign contributor after normal legislative process ended, not under investigation; Under investigation for connection to VECO oil services company in Alaska
Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) 38 years Chairman of House Ways & Means Committee Earmarked funds for the Charles P. Rangel School of Public Service; Under investigation by House Ethics Committee for alleged abuses of fund raising for Rangel School of Public Service
former Rep. Curt Weldon (R-PA) 20 years House Armed Services Committee Under investigation for pushing earmarks and contracts for Russian and Serbian interests that employed his daughter as a consultant; Lost reelection in 2006
Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) 40 years Chair of Senate Appropriations Committee (1997-2005) Came under scrutiny for his large number of earmarks for his home state of Alaska; Convicted on seven felony counts of making false statements in case related to his connections to VECO oil supply company in Alaska; Lost reelection in 2008