Ethics committee probing Visclosky, Tiahrt for ties to PMA lobbying firm

The House ethics committee is examining Reps. Peter Visclosky’s (D-Ind.) and Todd Tiahrt’s (R-Kansas) ties to PMA Group, a now-defunct lobbying firm that was raided by the FBI last year.

The ethics panel Friday announced that it has extended a review of Visclosky’s and Tiahrt’s activities for 45 more days after an initial probe that began Dec. 2. The committee said it will announce its “course of action” by March. 2.

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The ethics committee was forced to disclose action involving Visclosky and Tiahrt by Jan. 16, a deadline imposed by the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), an independent ethics entity the House created in 2008 to help reform its tarnished ethics record.

The OCE recommended that the ethics committee further investigate Visclosky and Tiahrt after conducting its own preliminary review of the nexus between political donations and earmarks members obtained for PMA clients and late last year forwarded its findings to the ethics committee.

News that Visclosky is under investigation by the ethics committee came as no surprise. His former chief of staff and office records were subpoenaed last year by the FBI because of his ties to PMA Group, and Visclosky subsequently decided to temporarily step down as chairman of an appropriations subcommittee. Visclosky is second only to Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) in the amount of political donations he received from PMA and its clients.

The fact that the OCE asked the ethics panel to look into Tiahrt’s activities was more unexpected because Tiahrt has yet to figure prominently in any news accounts of PMA’s alleged illegal activity. He also received far fewer PMA-related campaign contributions than Visclosky, Murtha and several other members of the defense spending subcommittee who also have come under scrutiny for accepting PMA Group contributions and securing earmarks for its clients.

The news could be especially damaging for Tiahrt, who is involved in a heated Senate race.

In a release, Tiahrt said he asked for the investigation to be transferred to the full ethics committee last fall and is glad it is now in that panel’s hands.

“I’m relieved this matter is in the jurisdiction of the House Committee on Standards, which now allows me to be fully exonerated by March 2,” he said in a statement. “In November, I asked for this matter to be transferred to the [Ethics] committee because I respect their ability to professionally review my defense appropriations vetting process.”

“We have every confidence that as the committee examines the facts, it will not only confirm the integrity of our rigorous procedures, but will find our vetting standards to be a professional model for other offices to adopt,” he added, referring to the office’s process for vetting earmarks.

Tiahrt’s decision to ask the full ethics committee to take over his case appears to be a shot at the OCE, which has traded barbs with the full ethics committee over jurisdictional matters during its first year.

The OCE apparently decided to recommend that the ethics committee dismiss cases against several other members of the defense-spending panel. Several members scrutinized in the media for their ties to PMA in December released letters from the OCE alerting them about their recommendation that the ethics committee dismiss the cases against them.

Those members include Reps. John Murtha (D-Pa.), Jim Moran (D-Va.), Norm Dicks (D-Wash.) and Bill Young (R-Fla.). A spokesman for Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), another member of the spending panel, did not return multiple requests for comment.

The OCE’s actions may have little impact on an ongoing full ethics committee investigation into the matter, which began independently last year. The ethics committee operates separately and has investigative powers, such as the ability to subpoena documents and testimony, and may determine its own path in the PMA matter.

The ethics panel 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.