DCCC, Murtha face decisions on funds donated by indicted defense contractor

Kickback charges against a defense contractor are putting the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee under pressure to return $17,000 in campaign donations.

At press time, the DCCC had not said whether it would return funds donated over the last three election cycles by Richard Ianieri,  former president and CEO of Coherent Systems International Corp., who faces the kickback charges. He also gave $13,500 to Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.).

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Other Coherent Systems employees gave an additional $21,300 to Murtha. The DCCC and Murtha’s office did not respond to questions about whether they would return the money or donate it to charity in the wake of the charges filed against Ianieri.

In the last three election cycles, Ianieri cut checks to several other Democrats, including $5,300 to Rep. Patrick Murphy (Pa.), $2,000 to Rep. Chet Edwards (Texas), $1,500 to Rep. Neil Abercrombie (Hawaii), $1,000 to Rep. Joe Sestak (Pa.) and $1,400 to Sen. Bob Casey Jr. (Pa.).

Edwards, who has repeatedly won close elections in a red district, and Sestak, who is expected to challenge Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) in the Democratic primary, have said they will return the campaign donations to Ianieri or give a check to charity. Murphy also said he gave the money to charity Tuesday after hearing about the charges against Ianieri.

Sestak’s office said he had already returned the money, while Edwards said he gave $2,000 to charity Tuesday after the campaign learned of the kickback charges.

“In light of the news of the indictment, [Sestak] decided to return the lone contribution he received from Mr. Ianieri in 2006,” Sestak spokesman Jonathon Dworkin said in a statement.

Ianieri also doled out a total of $2,300 to GOP Rep. Bill Shuster (Pa.). A Shuster spokesman said his boss could not be reached for comment by press time.

The DCCC is in a particularly difficult position. When Republicans were under pressure for taking political donations from lobbyist Jack Abramoff, several Democratic candidates in tough races called on their GOP opponents, especially those with close ties to Abramoff, to give back or donate to charity any contributions from him or his clients.

The Abramoff scandal contributed to the GOP’s problems in 2006, and House Democrats capitalized by winning back a House majority.

Murtha has directed millions of dollars in earmarks toward Coherent.

In the 2008 defense spending bill, Murtha provided $4 million to Coherent through two earmarks — $2.4 for a Marine Corps Combat Operations Center and $1.6 million for an Air Force Mobile Combat Data Link Gateway, according to www.legistorm.com and Taxpayers for Common Sense.

The company also received $1 million in an earmark requested by Rep. Bill Young (R-Fla.) for a Special Operations Forces Tagging, Tracking and Locating Tool Kit.

Murtha has not been named as a target in the probe and has said he has done nothing wrong.

His spokesman declined to comment on the charges and didn’t respond to a question about the campaign contributions.

Federal prosecutors in Pittsburgh charged Ianieri with taking nearly $200,000 in kickbacks from a contractor identified only as “K” in court documents filed Monday. The charges came in the form of a criminal information, an indication that Ianieri is working with prosecutors and plans to plead guilty.

Rep. Pete Visclosky (D-Ind.), whose staffers — both in his congressional office and one who worked for his political action committee — have been subpoenaed as part of a federal investigation into campaign contributions and their relations to earmarks, also received $9,200 in contributions from Ianieri. His campaign office did not respond to a question about whether he would keep or shed the donations.

Earlier this year, Visclosky’s office returned $18,000 in campaign contributions from three men after media reports questioned their relationship to the now-defunct lobbying firm PMA Group. The FBI raided the firm’s offices last year and is reportedly looking into whether PMA Group employees made fraudulent contributions to lawmakers in other people’s names.

Ianieri and Coherent Systems have strong ties to Kuchera Defense Systems, whose offices were raided by the FBI earlier this year. The two Pennsylvania-based companies worked together on several multimillion-dollar contracts.

In a 2007 press release, Murtha announced that Kuchera was working with Raytheon, Northrop Grumman and the Air Force Research Lab and Coherent on a contract that would bolster Kuchera jobs.

“These contracts involve new programs for Kuchera, which further diversifies their work load across various programs,” Murtha said in the release.

In 2006, Murtha issued a release highlighting the relationship between Coherent and Kuchera that noted the two were “working virtually as one company.” Coherent was working with Kuchera on $30 million worth of high-tech military contracts.

“Coherent designs, develops and tests the products, and Kuchera manufactures all or parts of them,” the release said.

Ianieri faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in jail and a $250,000 fine.

Coherent has been a client since 2004 of KSA Consulting, a Washington-based lobbying firm that once employed Murtha’s brother, Kit, and whose partners include Carmen Scialabba, a longtime former Murtha aide.

The company was bought in 2007 by another defense firm, Argon ST, which is cooperating with a Florida investigation involving allegations that contractors and a Department of Defense employee skimmed money from a multimillion-dollar earmark for personal use.

In addition to donating Ianieri’s campaign contributions to charity, Murphy also sent a letter to the Army Tuesday requesting the status of Argon ST’s continued involvement in the Joint Unified Maritime Protection (JUMPS) project in Doylestown, Pa., to “ensure that Argon ST is fulfilling their obligations under their contract with the Army,” Murphy’s spokeswoman said.

Murphy requested a $2.4 million earmark in the 2009 spending bill for a research and development piece of the JUMPS program.

This story was updated at 10:33 a.m. July 8.