New York Times


February 12, 2009


Following Mr. Murtha’s Money

The mantra of criminal investigators — follow the money — often reveals a decidedly circular route when it comes to Capitol Hill politics. Consider the recent raids by federal agents on the offices of a lobbyist and a Pentagon contractor, both with lucrative ties to Representative John Murtha, the powerful Democratic defense appropriator from Pennsylvania. Mr. Murtha, who has not been named as a target, is the reigning master at reaping handsome campaign donations from firms that he regularly blesses with rich government contracts.

One raid was at PMA Group of Arlington, Va., a lobbying firm founded by the former top staff aide on the defense appropriations subcommittee chaired by Mr. Murtha. (The gilded career path for ranking staffers who market their Inner Sanctum entree.) The lawmakers, meanwhile, earmarked more than $100 million in defense spending for PMA clients in the appropriations bills for 2008, according to a study by Taxpayers for Common Sense, which tracks earmarks.

Mr. Murtha received $1.3 million in donations from PMA’s clients in the last two election cycles.

Quid pro quo? Absolutely not, the congressman’s office insists. So far, reports indicate the F.B.I. focus is on whether bogus campaign contributions were made by grateful donors to Mr. Murtha and other Democrats on his subcommittee. If true, that would be only half a scandal. The investigation should not be limited to donors, but must look for any evidence of favoritism by incumbents doling out federal largess.

There also have been raids at two defense contractors in Mr. Murtha’s home district that have won tens of millions in Pentagon contracts in the last eight years.

Mr. Murtha says his contract decisions are all about job creation and fair value for taxpayers, not power brokering for easy political money. The surprise is not that Justice Department investigators dare to poke into Mr. Murtha’s defense appropriations trough. The surprise is that it took them so long.