Murtha to mark congressional milestone

Rep. John Murtha (R-Pa.), the House’s top defense appropriator, will hold a celebratory fundraising event in February to mark his becoming the longest-serving member of Congress from Pennsylvania.

Murtha’s campaign committee has already sent out the “Save the Dates” for the Feb. 24 event that is expected to draw a large number of lawmakers as well as defense industry officials and other supporters. Murtha’s wife, Joyce, will also be in attendance. The reception and dinner will be held at the Army-Navy Country Club in Arlington.

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By February, Murtha’s time in office will surpass the tenure of former Rep. Joseph McDade (R-Pa.), making him the longest-serving member of the Commonwealth. Murtha was first elected by a special election in February 1974, and then was re-elected to a second term in November of that year.

The celebration and fundraiser comes after the 77-year-old former Marine spent the past year under an ethics microscope. Murtha also had his share of health problems, such as knee replacement surgery and a December hospitalization for gallbladder problems.

Murtha’s office also shot down recent rumors that the veteran appropriator was planning to retire after his office asked the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee—prompted by a constituent inquiry—to detail what Murtha can do with remaining campaign funds should he retire. 

The February event indicates for now that Murtha is not slowing down his fundraising or his campaigning for a 20th term in office. Murtha is not without challengers for his seat. Although he won reelection by a solid 58 percent in 2008, his GOP challenger, William Russell, gave him a run for his money.

Russell is challenging Murtha once again. According to campaign data, Russell raised a little more than $2 million, but already has spent most of it, with $124,353 remaining cash on hand. By comparison, Murtha has raised more than $700,000 so far, and has more than $400,000 on hand, according to data gathered by CQMoneyline. Businessman Tim Burns is another GOP challenger of Murtha’s in this election cycle.

For 2010, Murtha also has a Democratic primary challenger: Ryan Bucchianeri, 34, attended the Naval Academy and was a kicker for the Midshipman football team. Both Bucchianeri and Burns have had meager fundraising, according to data provided by Moneyline.

But as in past years, Murtha will be difficult to unseat. Throughout his congressional tenure, Murtha has been credited with bringing economic development to his once-depressed district. Murtha has been able to secure about $2 billion for his district since he joined the appropriations committee, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense. Murtha also credits himself with creating 20,000 jobs in his district, hit hard by the loss of steel and coal jobs over the last two decades. At the same time, some of Murtha’s earmarks have been a source of controversy and scrutiny.

One of the most telling symbols of Murtha’s power is Showcase for Commerce, one of the country’s most popular technology trade shows. A former steel town, Johnstown has transformed into one of the defense industry’s major regional hubs.

Defense giants Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics, Raytheon and BAE Systems now sponsor the show, alongside contractor DRS Technologies, which has strong ties to Johnstown and Murtha. The show has become an annual draw for those in defense circles who know that Murtha has influence that in some cases could make or break their business.

It is Murtha’s close relationship with the defense industry that attracted scrutiny, particularly in 2009, when reports surfaced that the FBI had raided the PMA Group, a defense lobbying firm with strong ties to Murtha. Many of the now-defunct PMA Group’s former clients are clustered in and around Murtha’s district.

Murtha’s office has said the lawmaker does not believe he is the focus of the FBI’s probe into PMA Group, and that he has not had any contact with Justice Department investigators or prosecutors.

Also, the Office of Congressional Ethics in December closed its investigation into Reps. Murtha, Norm Dicks (D-Wash.) and Jim Moran (D-Va.) and their relationships to the PMA Group. PMA employees and clients were leading donors to Murtha, Moran, Dicks and other appropriators, and received earmarks from them over the years.

The OCE advised against a formal House ethics investigation. The panel has up to 90 days to review the OCE recommendation and reach its own decision.

Meanwhile, Murtha likely will play a major role next year together with House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) when Congress takes up continued funding for the military operations in Afghanistan. Murtha has been skeptical about the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. He said in December that he did not believe Afghanistan poses a national security threat to the U.S.


Murtha said President Barack Obama’s speech announcing the 30,000-troop increase to Afghanistan was very “impressive,” but it failed to change his mind about the situation in the country. Murtha said that he does not see an “achievable goal” for U.S. forces in Afghanistan. His committee has yet to hold a hearing with Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Afghanistan strategy. The December hearing was postponed due to Murtha’s hospitalization for gallbladder problems.