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Ex-Staffers Winning Defense Panel Pork, Study Finds

by Carol D. Leonnig

In the coming year's military spending bill, members of a House panel continue to steer lucrative defense contracts to companies represented by their former staffers, who in turn steer generous campaign donations to those lawmakers, a new analysis has found.

The Center for Public Integrity found that 10 of the 16 members of the House subcommittee on defense appropriations obtained 30 earmarks in the bill worth $103 million for contractors currently or recently employing former staffers who have become lobbyists. The analysis by the Washington watchdog group found that earmarks still often hinge on a web of connections, despite at least three criminal investigations of the practice that became public in the past year. Those probes focus on a handful of defense contractors and a powerful lobbying firm that together won hundreds of millions of dollars in work from the House panel and are closely tied to its chairman,  Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.).

On Tuesday, the Senate approved a $636 billion military spending bill for fiscal year 2010; the House approved its version in July. House and Senate members now will work in conference to resolve differences between their two bills.

The Center for Public Integrity's analysis found some shifts in earmarking patterns since its similar analysis of the 2008 defense bill. First, Rep. Peter J. Visclosky (D-Ind.), whose office records were subpoenaed by federal prosecutors in May, has markedly reduced his earmark requests and sought no work for private companies. Also, defense appropriators are generally steering more earmarks to nonprofits.

The Washington Post has documented more than $400 million in defense earmarks that Murtha has directed in the past decade to research groups in his district, including the Penn State Electro-Optics Center and the John P. Murtha Institute for Homeland Security, which steered much of the funds to private contractors.

Since last fall, federal investigators have been probing the PMA Group, a now-shuttered lobbying firm whose clients had unusual success in winning earmarks from Murtha's subcommittee. Founder Paul Magliocchetti is a close friend of Murtha's and worked as a defense appropriations staffer when Murtha was a rank-and-file member of the committee.

PMA and its clients had been big donors to Murtha and his fellow subcommittee members in the past decade, according to a Center for Responsive Politics report, with Murtha receiving the most. Since 1998, workers at those firms and their family members provided $2.4 million to Murtha -- who helped insert more than $100 million in defense-related earmarks into 2008 appropriations bills. Visclosky was second, collecting $1.4 million, and Rep.  James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.) was next, with $997,000.

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