Murtha: If I'm Corrupt, It's Because I Care

Headline in the May 2 New York Times: "Murtha's Nephew Named a Lobbyist for Marines." Headline just three days later in the May 5 Washington Post: "Murtha's Nephew Got Defense Contracts."

Guess what? Two different nephews. They're brothers, though, each
blessed with the same, beneficent and no doubt beloved uncle --
Pennsylvania Congressman John P. Murtha, Democratic chairman of the
House Appropriations defense subcommittee -- friend of the
military-industrial complex; a man who's generous to family and
constituents, always ready to lend an ear -- or, rather, earmark.

His nephew Colonel Brian Murtha, a Marine helicopter pilot, has been
transferred to the Marines' legislative liaison office -- which deals
with Congress and Murtha's subcommittee -- and has even moved into the
same Virginia condo building as his Uncle Jack. "It does not appear to
violate any rules or ethics guidelines," the Times
reported, "though it may well raise some eyebrows among legislative
liaisons competing for resources on behalf of the other military

The other nephew -- Robert C. Murtha, Jr. -- a former Marine, runs a
company in Glen Burnie, Maryland, called Murtech Inc. According to The Washington Post,
"Last year, Murtech received $4 million in Pentagon work, all of it
without competition, for a variety of warehousing and engineering

Murtha, Jr., denied that his uncle had anything to do with his business success, but on Monday, the Post
revealed documents that "show Robert Murtha mentioning his influential
family connection as leverage in his business dealings and holding
unusual power in his dealings with the military." In the e-mail's
obtained by the Post, Murtha tells associates that part of the federal money must be spent in Uncle Jack's hometown, Johnstown, Pennsylvania.

reporters Carol D. Leonnig and Alice Crites described Murtech's HQ as a
"bland building... blinds drawn tight and few signs of life. On several
days of visits, a handful of cars sit in the parking lot, and no trucks
arrive at the 10 loading bays at the back of the building." And a
former employee of the company told the paper, "I was always thinking,
'Why is the government paying this company?' If it's fair to have this
kind of no-bid work, I'll start a company and do it for half as much.
Because this company didn't do anything."

Robert, Jr., and Brian are the sons of Jack Murtha's brother Robert Murtha, Sr., known as "Kit," who, as the Post
notes, "built a longtime lobbying practice around clients seeking
defense funds through the Appropriations Committee and became one of
the top members of KSA, a lobbying firm whose contract clients often
received multimillion-dollar earmarks directed through the committee
chairman." Kit Murtha retired three years ago.

So, just as the Quakers came to the Keystone State to do good and then
did well, many amongst the Murthas of Pennsylvania have prospered. But
thanks to Congressman Murtha, the defense industry and his home
district in western Pa. have fared even better.

Rep. Jack Murtha is himself a former Marine and Eagle Scout, a
decorated veteran (the first Vietnam vet to serve in Congress, elected
in 1974). He has long been a champion of the military, especially the
enlisted men and women, and has spoken angrily about the lack of proper
treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder among those who have
fought in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. It was Murtha who in November
2005 announced, "The U.S. cannot accomplish anything further in Iraq
militarily. It is time to bring them home."

But it's also Murtha who was named one of the 20 most corrupt members
of Congress by the non-partisan Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics
in Washington (CREW). Last year, Esquire Magazine
named him one of the ten worst members of Congress because of his
opposition to ethics reform limiting the use of earmarks, funds for
those favorite slices of pork slipped into appropriations bills (Murtha
called the ethics reform bill "total crap.").

Since Murtha joined the appropriations committee, the group Taxpayers
for Common Sense estimates that he has sent more than $2 billion worth
of pork back home, more than any other congressman ($192.5 million in
the 2008 budget alone).

"If I'm corrupt, it's because I take care of my district," he told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette,
a sentiment that may go down in political history with that familiar
saying from the 19th century, "An honest politician is one who when
he's bought, stays bought."

Murtha's largesse has funded, among other projects, the National Drug
Intelligence Center, in beautiful downtown Johnstown, which critics say
duplicates intelligence gathering in Washington and along the
Texas-Mexico border; and Pennsylvania State University's Electro-Optics
Center, a defense research facility, which has received $250 million in
federal funding, "a significant portion" of which, according to an
earlier Washington Post investigation, is channeled "to companies that were among Murtha's campaign supporters."

But my personal favorite is the John Murtha Johnstown-Cambria County
Airport, affectionately known around his district as "Fort Murtha."
Over the last ten years, the 650-acre mountaintop airport has received
$200 million in federal cash and yet, on weekdays, only six commercial
flights take off from or land there, all of them headed to or from,
surprise, Dulles International Airport outside of Washington, DC. Just
recently, this "airport for nobody" became one of the first to receive
stimulus money -- $800,000 to widen runways.

About thirty million dollars of the taxpayers' money have been spent to
beef the place up so it also can handle jumbo military aircraft and
serve as a warehouse for military supplies in case a national emergency
cuts off Pittsburgh International Airport, two hours away. There's a
Marine helicopter base there, a National Guard training center, even an
$8.6 million, high tech radar system, but it's never been used because
the Pennsylvania National Guard is in charge and they haven't got the
manpower to operate it.

Supporters defend the airport not only as useful for the military but
as a lure for businesses considering relocation in the area. In fact,
without the money he's brought in, Murtha said, the city of Johnstown
-- its once busy steel industry long dead -- "would have been like
Detroit is today. We would have been a ghost town."

But as a recent editorial in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
opined, "Sure, plenty of people in Johnstown are grateful. But Mr.
Murtha's insistence that this is how the process must work misses the
reality that his constituents deserve to have their tax dollars spent
on projects that have proven their value through competitive bidding
and impartial evaluation. A view that the ends justify the means leaves
too many questions: Are the projects necessary? Is the method of
selection fair? Are political contributors the real winners?"

Which brings us to the other shoe scheduled to drop in the coming weeks
and months. In November, the FBI raided the offices of the PMA Group, a
lobbying firm founded twenty years ago by former Murtha aide Paul
Magliocchetti that brought in earmarked defense contracts worth
hundreds of millions of dollars. They searched Magliocchetti's home,
too, and last month, PMA went out of business.

Reportedly, the investigation is focusing initially on whether PMA used
various individuals as straw men -- conduits for illegal campaign
contributions -- and if free meals and other gifts from the
high-rolling Magliocchetti were bribes linked to votes from members of
Murtha's subcommittee.

From 1998, PMA clients gave more than $7.8 million in campaign
contributions to subcommittee members, including $2.4 million to Jack
Murtha. Oddly enough, The Wall Street Journal's John Fund has pointed out, those contributions often were made in March, around the time earmark requests are made.

"Many on Capitol Hill," The New York Times
reported March 30th, "recalling the scandal that mushroomed around the
lobbyist Jack Abramoff, are wondering who will be ensnared in the
investigation as prosecutors pore over the financial records and
computer files of one of K Street's most influential lobbyists."

As accusations of bribery and fraud mount and the FBI probe continues,
Jack Murtha and his colleagues better batten down the hatches and
prepare for a whole new Johnstown Flood.

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