Lawmakers not approached by ethics panel, reports inquest has broadened

The House ethics committee has not approached Reps. Jim Moran (D-Va.) or Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) about the PMA Group, a now-defunct lobbying firm under FBI investigation.

The two lawmakers, both of whom sit on the Appropriations Defense subcommittee that provided earmarks to the group’s clients, said they are cooperating with the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), a new quasi-independent board that initiates investigations and makes recommendations to the full panel.

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But both said late last week that the full House panel has neither interviewed them nor asked either for any information about their interactions with or political contributions from the former lobbying group. They made the comments a week after a report surfaced that the ethics probe had widened to more than 30 lawmakers, according to documents obtained last month by The Washington Post.

The OCE has conducted interviews with them and asked for documents related to the PMA Group, its clients and political donations the two members have received from them.

“I’ve talked to just the OCE,” Moran said in an interview. “I’ve had no contact with the ethics committee.”

Kaptur also said the OCE interviewed her and requested documents from her office, which she readily provided.

In early June the House approved a resolution requiring the ethics committee to report on the status of any investigation into the PMA Group and its ties to lawmakers within 45 days. The unusual move by Democratic leaders came in the wake of steady Republican pressure about the ethics controversy involving campaign contributions from PMA and its clients and the earmarks they received.

The ethics committee subsequently issued a statement saying the panel “previously authorized a review of certain specified allegations within the Committee’s jurisdiction that relate to” the subject matter of the PMA group resolution. Ethics committee Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and Rep. Jo Bonner (R-Ala.), its ranking member, released the statement together.

More than a week ago, the Post obtained a 22-page secret ethics committee document prepared in July that revealed the committee was scrutinizing the activities of more than 30 lawmakers and several aides. A low-level committee aide accidentally placed the report on a publicly accessible computer network. The aide was subsequently fired.

The Post reported the document revealed a much broader investigation into lawmakers’ connections to the PMA Group than previously thought. The document included information on seven lawmakers on the House Appropriations Defense subcommittee and the federal earmarks they steered to the firm’s clients and the political contributions they received from the clients and PMA lobbyists.

Nearly half the members of the powerful subcommittee in control of Pentagon spending are under scrutiny by ethics investigators, according to the Post, including subcommittee Chairman John Murtha (D-Pa.) and Reps. Pete Visclosky (D-Ind.), Moran, Norm Dicks (D-Wash.), Kaptur, Bill Young (R-Fla.) and Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.).

The seven lawmakers have steered a combined total of more than $200 million in earmarks to PMA Group clients in the past two years and have received more than $6.2 million in campaign contributions from the firm and its clients in the past decade.

The document also revealed that the ethics committee staff interviewed aides to Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) about his allegation that a PMA lobbyist threatened him in 2007 when he balked at steering federal funds to a PMA client.

Roughly a year ago, the FBI raided PMA headquarters and the firm shuttered its offices in Moran’s Northern Virginia district. The leaked document showed both the OCE and the ethics committee were looking into the matter. Only the ethics committee, however, has the power to subpoena and sanction members of Congress.

The day after the ethics document was revealed, Tiahrt, who is running for Senate, denied he was a focus of any probe. He said he complied with an OCE request to discuss the process he uses to submit defense-related earmark requests to the Appropriations Committee.

“Projects I submit that are approved by both the appropriations committee and the full House are made available online with my name appearing next to the initiative,” he said in a statement. “I also routinely issue press releases [about] these funding requests because I’m proud to fight for worthy projects that help protect our troops serving overseas and that create thousands of direct, high-quality Kansas jobs.”

Visclosky is the only member to disclose that his office and aides have been subpoenaed by federal investigators examining the lawmaker’s ties to PMA. He has since temporarily stepped down as chairman of the Appropriations Energy and Water subcommittee and has paid $100,000 in legal fees related to the probe.