The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Mary Boyle (202)736-5770

Earmarks for Campaign Cash?

Murtha, House Defense Appropriations Panel Members Channeled $355.5 Million in Earmarks to Campaign Contributors in 2008


Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) has received considerable press over the
years for adding so-called earmarks to defense spending bills that
benefit large campaign contributors and send no-bid contracts back to
his district in Pennsylvania, many of questionable value to the
taxpayer. A review of campaign finance reports, however, shows that the
practice of inserting earmarks on behalf of campaign contributors is
far more widespread on Rep. Murtha's appropriations subcommittee alone.

The 18 members of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense,
which Rep. Murtha chairs, inserted more than $355 million in earmarks
into the 2008 defense spending bill on behalf of their campaign
contributors. Those contributors, according to campaign disclosure
reports, donated a total of $1.3 million to the individual members who
sponsored the earmarks.

Rep. Murtha inserted a total of $166.5 million worth of earmarks in
last year's defense appropriations bill, $73.6 million of which went to
some of his biggest contributors. The recipients of those earmarks
donated a total of $313,150 to Rep. Murtha's reelection campaign or his
leadership PAC during the 2008 election.

"Jack Murtha is the poster boy for pay-to-play politics," said Bob
Edgar, president of Common Cause, which has asked the House Ethics
Committee to investigate Mr. Murtha and two of his colleagues, Rep.
James Moran (D-VA) and Rep. Peter Visclosky (D-IN), on the defense
appropriations panel for allegedly steering in exchange for hefty
campaign contributions millions of dollars worth of earmarks to a
now-defunct lobbying firm staffed by former Murtha aides. "But we must
end the widespread practice of what appears to be trading earmarks for
campaign cash. This game distorts our nation's spending priorities and
erodes public trust in our government."

This report examines
the contributions that earmark seekers - often defense companies, in
the case of this report - donated to Rep. Murtha, as well as to the
rest of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, and the value of
the earmarks they got in return.

This look is just another example of the conflicts of interest that
arise from our corrupting campaign finance system that pressures
elected officials and candidates to constantly raise large sums of
money, often from the special interests who want the most in return.

Questions have been raised about whether Rep. Murtha inserted earmarks
in exchange for campaign contributions. Common Cause has joined others
in calling on the House Ethics Committee and the Office of
Congressional Ethics to investigate. At the same time, Rep. Murtha is
obviously not the only member of Congress who has inserted earmarks for
companies that donated to his reelection campaign.

The real answer is to change the way America pays for its elections
with the passage of the Fair Elections Now Act, which would allow
candidates to swear off big money and run for office on a blend of
small donations and public funds.

Common Cause is a nonpartisan, grassroots organization dedicated to upholding the core values of American democracy. We work to create open, honest, and accountable government that serves the public interest; promote equal rights, opportunity, and representation for all; and empower all people to make their voices heard in the political process.

(202) 833-1200