Some defense lobbyists see win in a Murtha loss

Some defense lobbyists who have worked with Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) are hoping that Murtha loses his high-profile majority leader race against Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).

Murtha, the ranking member of the defense appropriations subcommittee, is a longtime favorite of the defense industry, which has contributed significantly to Murtha’s campaign war chest.

While Murtha would stay a strong ally to the defense industry as majority leader, several lobbyists said in recent days — as the competition for the No. 2 House position has intensified — that they would much rather see Murtha hold the gavel of the defense appropriations subcommittee. As such, he would have direct influence on the industry’s interests.

Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.), a Boeing proponent who would replace Murtha as chairman of the defense appropriations subcommittee, is also considered a friend of the industry. However, Murtha shells out far more earmarks.

As majority leader, Murtha would be under the spotlight with every move the Democrats make to reform ethics and lobbying practices.  Murtha voted against the House Democratic substitute on lobbying reform and has strongly defended the use of earmarks.

In a Sept. 29 C-SPAN “Newsmakers” interview, Murtha said, “… just because a member wants something that is beneficial to their district or to the country in many cases, I don’t define that as earmarked.”

Murtha has also been known to trade earmarks for votes on the floor, which has become a regular practice in Congress.

In the wake of the former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-Calif.) scandal – which centered on defense earmarks – some believe that earmark use will drop significantly in the new Congress.

“There is going to be some reduction in the number of earmarks, there is going to be greater scrutiny, which is going to yield a much better product,” said Steve Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense. “We would much rather see a system, which is a meritorious system.”

The Democratic leadership is expected early next year to introduce much of the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act, which it unveiled last January.

Several lobbyists said that they feel they are taking the hit for a few bad apples. Some are balking at the proposed public disclosure of lobbying activities, which under the Democrats’ proposal requires lobbyists to file quarterly reports with more information than is required now, including campaign contributions, fundraisers and other events and the name of each member contacted.

“If lobbyists are required to put on their lobbying reports their fundraising activity and the offices that we go to, it would be impossible for any of these members to solicit money from any of these lobbyists that lobby their office,” said one defense lobbyist.

“It hurts us as well as it hurts them and it hurts the process. Lobbyists are an essential part of the process. We serve a very important function and that should not be overlooked,” the lobbyist added.

Some have said that it may be harder to meet new members, and if they hold fundraisers for them at the beginning of the year, when the budget comes out, that fundraising could be interpreted as a quid pro quo.

The American League of Lobbyists (ALL) yesterday called on Congress to proceed cautiously with lobbying legislation. Watchdog groups, meanwhile, are pushing hard for far-reaching reform bills.

“We’re concerned that the message being sent by members of the new Congress about the lobbying profession is unfairly negative,” said Paul Miller, ALL president. “Lobbyists should not once again become the target of overreaching reforms that won’t achieve a goal of openness and transparency.”

Miller also said that new legislation is not necessary and that rules changes in the House and Senate would be sufficient.

Under the Democratic plan, lobbyists would also be barred from arranging, sponsoring and participating in trips for lawmakers. But one defense lobbyist said that could backfire as legislators may resort to military flights if they want to visit a site, thereby charging the taxpayer.