Dems cleared in PMA lobbying scandal

At least three Democratic lawmakers have been cleared of any wrongdoing after an initial investigation into their ties to PMA Group, a now-defunct lobbying firm.

Reps. John Murtha (Pa.), Jim Moran (Va.) and Norm Dicks (Wash.) recently received a letter from the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) informing them that it found no need for further inquiry into the PMA-related allegations.

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The board of the OCE on Nov. 30 voted unanimously to recommend that the full ethics committee dismiss the charges, according to a letter to the OCE from one of the lawmakers involved. The allegations accused the lawmakers of breaking bribery and illegal gratuity laws, as well as breaking House rules by accepting improper gifts in exchange for official action.

Murtha’s and Moran’s offices confirmed that they received the same letter. 

"I appreciate the panel's thorough investigation and carefully considered and unanimous decision to dismiss what were from the outset, baseless charges," Moran said. "If the vindication and dismissal of the matter gets one-tenth of the visibility that the allegation assumed, I'll be pleased."

The OCE action, however, may have little if any impact on an ongoing ethics committee investigation into the matter. The OCE was formed last year to launch initial reviews of ethics allegations and make recommendations to the ethics committee for further action. But the ethics committee operates separately and has more investigative powers, such as the ability to subpoena documents and testimony and may determine its own path in the controversial PMA matter.

Ethics committee staff director Blake Chisam declined to comment, citing the panel’s policy of keeping current investigations confidential.

"The committee does not comment on matters that may or may not be before it,” he said.

The ethics committee publicly acknowledged that it had launched a probe in June after the House passed a resolution sponsored by Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) calling on the ethics committee to disclose whether it was investigating the PMA issue. Hoyer’s measure came after Rep. Jeff Flake’s (R-Ariz.) ninth attempt to force the ethics panel to launch an investigation into the nexus between lawmakers’ earmarks to PMA Group and its clients and the political contributions the members received from them.

Ethics watchdogs and earmark foes have been scrutinizing the link between PMA Group earmarks and campaign contributions ever since the FBI raided the lobbying firm’s office earlier this year.

In late October, The Washington Post reported that the ethics committee was investigating seven lawmakers on the House defense-spending panel — Murtha, Moran and Dicks, as well as Reps. Peter Visclosky (D-Ind.), Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.) and Bill Young (R-Fla.) — and their ties to PMA Group. The Post cited an internal ethics committee document as the source of the information. That memo was accidentally leaked by an ethics committee staffer through an online file-sharing program.

The FBI has subpoenaed Visclosky’s office and chief of staff for documents and testimony in the case. The other members so far have not received FBI subpoenas. Visclosky, Murtha, Moran and Dicks have doled out millions of dollars for PMA clients, and both the firm and its clients have showered the four with campaign donations.

All seven have steered earmarks to PMA clients and received campaign contributions, but Kaptur, Tiahrt and Young have received far fewer campaign contributions from PMA than the other four members of the defense-spending panel under scrutiny for their ties to the firm.

The offices of Visclosky, Kaptur, Tiahrt and Young could not be reached for comment Friday.