GOPers target Dems’ earmarks to clients of firm probed by FBI

Republicans are planning new attacks on a vulnerable Democratic front: earmarks senior Democrats, including Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), directed to clients of a now-defunct lobbying firm under FBI investigation.

Rep. Mark KirkMark Steven KirkSenate majority battle snags Biden Cabinet hopefuls The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Senate makes SCOTUS nominee Barrett a proxy for divisive 2020 Senate Republicans scramble to put Trump at arm's length MORE (R-Ill.), a member of the Appropriations Committee, plans to offer an amendment that would freeze millions of dollars directed to PMA clients as earmarks in the 2009 omnibus spending bill. The money would be on hold until the FBI investigation into the lobbying firm is concluded and Congress and the public can determine whether any wrongdoing occurred, the lawmaker confirmed late last week.

Kirk has railed against the $8 million directed to 12 pet projects for PMA clients in the omnibus bill.

“There is a complete lack of judgment [on the part of Democratic appropriators] to have put earmarks in a bill for clients of a firm that is under investigation,” he said.

Kirk, who is said to be weighing a run for the Senate seat President Obama left behind, originally planned to offer the amendment during last Thursday’s markup of the defense spending bill, but decided to hold off. He is still determining the right time to offer it, most likely when the defense appropriations bill hits the House floor, he said.

Meanwhile, the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) on Tuesday launched a radio ad in nine districts that attempts to tie vulnerable Democrats to Murtha’s mounting ethics allegations. The ad slams Democrats for voting for the stimulus package, which includes funding for what Republicans have tagged “the airport for no one,” a play on the notorious earmark for the “bridge to nowhere” in Alaska.

The John Murtha Johnstown-Cambria airport, located two hours east of Pittsburgh, has received $200 million in federal funds over the last three decades, most of it secured by Murtha. Despite this injection of taxpayer dollars, the airport has been criticized for its dearth of commercial flights. According to The Washington Post, only three commercial flights leave the airport on weekdays, all headed to Dulles International Airport.

Republicans also pointed to a report in Johnstown’s Tribune-Democrat earlier this week that noted $800,000 in stimulus money airport administrators had expected to help repave a runway was being held up while the Federal Aviation Administration scrutinized the allocation.

House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.) predicted more GOP attempts to highlight Democratic ethics woes as the appropriations season heats up.

“I believe you’ll see a lot more efforts like this one as the appropriations process gets going,” he said.

House Democratic campaign officials denounced the latest GOP effort to highlight corruption issues as a desperate message from a party relying on the failed political tactics of the past.

“These desperate attack ads are coming from the same NRCC now claiming President Obama has a secret plan to keep people out of work and deliberately drive down the stock market. The more Republicans see their ‘just say no’ message of obstructing President Obama’s economic recovery plans fall on deaf ears, the more desperate they become to try and change the subject,” said Ryan Rudominer, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Kirk’s amendment builds on an anti-PMA earmark crusade Rep. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeProfiles in cowardice: Trump's Senate enablers McSally concedes Arizona Senate race The Hill's Morning Report - ObamaCare front and center; transition standoff continues MORE (R-Ariz.) has led since early this year. The House was scheduled on Tuesday to vote again on a resolution Flake offered requiring an ethics probe of PMA and the nexus between earmarks it received and contributions the lobbying firm and its clients directed to lawmakers. It was the eighth time Flake had offered the resolution but the first time since Democratic leaders had lectured reform-minded freshman and sophomore Democrats against voting for it.

The resolution failed on mostly partisan lines, 182 to 152. Twenty-nine Democrats voted with Flake, two more than the last time Flake offered the resolution before Easter and in the wake of several additional stories critical of PMA and Murtha-directed earmarks.

Several Democrats have donated PMA-related campaign contributions to charity, including Rep. Pete Visclosky (D-Ind.), chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Air and Water and a top recipient of PMA cash who has directed tens of millions of dollars in earmarks to the firm’s clients.

Others members with close ties to PMA, such as Rep. Jim MoranJames (Jim) Patrick MoranLawmakers toast Greta Van Susteren's new show Star-studded cast to perform play based on Mueller report DC theatre to host 11-hour reading of the Mueller report MORE (D-Va.), defend the earmarks and say they are unrelated to the campaign contributions the lawmakers receive.

Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), a member of the Appropriations Defense subcommittee, also sees no reason to purge the PMA donations.

“I’m a strong believer in the presumption of innocence until I learn otherwise,” she said. “It’s very easy for members and respectable people to get destroyed for political purposes.”

She suspects that Kirk and other Republicans are just trying to highlight the PMA controversy for partisan gain.

Kaptur also defended PMA’s work for helping to make firms in her district more competitive for grants often awarded to higher-profile defense giants in other parts of the country.

“I never had a problem with PMA — they helped smaller firms in my district compete,” she said.