PMA’s fallout shines spotlight on revolving door of lobbyists

The FBI’s raid of the once-highflying PMA Group has sent a cold chill through the insular world of defense appropriations lobbying.

While fallout from the raid has hit lobbyists and clients of the PMA Group the most, even defense lobbyists with strong ties to Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) but no affiliation to PMA are worried their once-vaunted connections to the senior defense appropriator could become tarnished.

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The lobbyists are fearful the federal investigation into defense lobbying, coming on the heels of former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham’s (R-Calif.) and Jack Abramoff’s high-profile scandals, could make it even more difficult to request and secure government dollars for defense contractors and clients.

“There’s definitely some concern that [the PMA investigation] will put more pressure against earmarks,” a defense lobbyist commented. “There’s also going to be a lot more sunshine on everyone’s campaign contributions.”

The PMA controversy has also put the spotlight back on the revolving door of appropriations staffers-turned-lobbyists, something House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), a strong Murtha ally, decried when Republicans held the House majority.

When Democrats regained the majority, Pelosi advocated extending the one-year ban on members and aides from lobbying after they leave Congress. But House Democrats ended up dropping a provision from their lobbying reform bill that would have extended the ban to two years after veteran Democratic members balked at the language.

The revolving door is a common practice across Capitol Hill, and Murtha, a 35-year veteran of the House and one of the longest-serving members of the spending panel, naturally has many former aides working in the private sector.

Murtha isn’t the only lawmaker with strong ties to the PMA Group. The former defense group also had lobbyists with close ties to Reps. Pete Visclosky (D-Ind.) and Jim Moran (D-Va.), and all have faced the brunt of the bad publicity.

After the raid, the firm closed its doors and the formerly tight-knit band split into several different firms. None of them has gone on to work for major defense contractors, one appropriations lobbyist said, mainly because with the FBI questioning many of them, they’re all considered “radioactive” right now.

PMA clients have also taken a hit. Visclosky has stopped requesting earmarks for former PMA clients and has stepped aside from his chairmanship of an Appropriations subcommittee until the investigation is over. Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) plans to offer an amendment to the defense appropriations bill to prevent any PMA clients from receiving earmarks.

Murtha is still earmarking, and some of his requests for fiscal 2010 are for former PMA clients. A number of other requests would go to clients of former Murtha staffers with no connection to PMA.

The staffers-turned-defense lobbyists who owe their positions to Murtha are shy about talking to the press, keep to themselves and continue year after year to rake in earmarks for their defense clients.

Their clients are slated to receive $43.1 million in defense earmarks from Murtha alone in fiscal 2010. That¹s about half of Murtha’s $77.5 million in total defense earmark requests.

The staffers-turned-lobbyists are fiercely loyal to Murtha; when contacted by The Hill, only two former Murtha staffers returned phones calls and none would speak on the record. None of the lobbyists named in this story would be quoted by The Hill.

Several rushed to Murtha’s aid late in the 2008 campaign when his seat was suddenly threatened, including three who have ended up in key government-relations posts at Lockheed Martin: former Appropriations Defense subcommittee staff directors Greg Walters and Greg Dahlberg; and Gabrielle Carruth, a Murtha staffer from 2002 to 2007 who ended her Capitol Hill tenure as appropriations director for the defense spending subcommittee.

That trio cut checks to Murtha totaling $5,400. In the last few weeks of the campaign, Boeing’s David Morrison also wrote a $1,000 check. Lobbyist Scott Harshman, who founded Harshman Consulting, doled out $1,100, and another $2,300 came from David Kilian, who represents several defense clients for Innovative Federal Strategies, the firm that changed its name after the FBI began examining its ties to Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.), another powerful appropriator.

Before joining Lockheed, Carruth was vice president for government relations for Argon ST. This year Murtha requested $8 million for Argon’s program upgrading Naval torpedo defense capabilities.

Murtha also has requested $3 million for a program at the University of Pittsburgh involving “smart” electronic health records to optimize care for civilian and military patients at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Morrison, a former staff director on the Defense subcommittee and adviser to Pelosi on defense and intelligence matters, had lobbied for the university while at the Podesta Group. He left in late February to become vice president of government operations at Boeing.

Boeing spokesman Sean McCormack said, "Dave, who is a Pittsburgh native, had the University of Pittsburgh as
a client. During his entire time working with the university, though, he never worked on the 'smart' card issue."

Harshman worked for Murtha in various positions from 1994 to 2003, ending as the economic development coordinator in Murtha’s district office. Harshman lobbies for Nokomis Inc., the requested recipient of $6 million to continue the development of anti-improvised explosive device (IED) technology. The close ties between Nokomis and Murtha’s office are obvious from a quick review of the company’s website. The only news item listed on the site links directly to Murtha’s congressional website.

Harshman also lobbies for Advanced Acoustic Concepts, a former PMA client.

Carmen Scialabba, a 27-year veteran of Murtha’s staff, also maintains a close bond with Murtha. Scialabba divides his time between the Pennsylvania Association for Individuals with Disabilities (PAID), which he founded, and KSA Consulting.

Murtha requested $3.5 million this year for one of KSA’s clients, Compass. Scialabba also lobbies for KDH Defense Systems, a Johnstown, Pa.-based contractor. Murtha requested $2.2 million for KDH’s body armor ballistic protection research and development.

This article was updated on July 2 at 11:42 a.m.